Erythrocyte omega-3 index, ambient fine particle exposure, and brain aging

Neurology. 2020 Aug 25;95(8):e995-e1007. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000010074. Epub 2020 Jul 15.


Objective: To examine whether long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCn3PUFA) levels modify the potential neurotoxic effects of particle matter with diameters <2.5 µm (PM2.5) exposure on normal-appearing brain volumes among dementia-free elderly women.

Methods: A total of 1,315 women (age 65-80 years) free of dementia were enrolled in an observational study between 1996 and 1999 and underwent structural brain MRI in 2005 to 2006. According to prospectively collected and geocoded participant addresses, we used a spatiotemporal model to estimate the 3-year average PM2.5 exposure before the MRI. We examined the joint associations of baseline LCn3PUFAs in red blood cells (RBCs) and PM2.5 exposure with brain volumes in generalized linear models.

Results: After adjustment for potential confounders, participants with higher levels of RBC LCn3PUFA had significantly greater volumes of white matter and hippocampus. For each interquartile increment (2.02%) in omega-3 index, the average volume was 5.03 cm3 (p < 0.01) greater in the white matter and 0.08 cm3 (p = 0.03) greater in the hippocampus. The associations with RBC docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid levels were similar. Higher LCn3PUFA attenuated the inverse associations between PM2.5 exposure and white matter volumes in the total brain and multimodal association areas (frontal, parietal, and temporal; all p for interaction <0.05), while the associations with other brain regions were not modified. Consistent results were found for dietary intakes of LCn3PUFAs and nonfried fish.

Conclusions: Findings from this prospective cohort study among elderly women suggest that the benefits of LCn3PUFAs on brain aging may include the protection against potential adverse effects of air pollution on white matter volumes.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Female
  • Healthy Aging / blood*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects*
  • Prospective Studies


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Particulate Matter