Lipids

, Volume 36, Issue 9, pp 885–895

Essential fatty acids in visual and brain development

  • Ricardo Uauy
  • Dennis R. Hoffman
  • Patricio Peirano
  • David G. Birch
  • Eileen E. Birch
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11745-001-0798-1

Cite this article as:
Uauy, R., Hoffman, D.R., Peirano, P. et al. Lipids (2001) 36: 885. doi:10.1007/s11745-001-0798-1

Abstract

Essential fatty acids are structural components of all tissues and are indispensable for cell membrane synthesis; the brain, retina and other neural tissues are particularly rich in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA). These fatty acids serve as specific precursors for eicosanoids, which regulate numerous cell and organ functions. Recent human studies support the essential nature of n-3 fatty acids in addition to the well-established role of n−6 essential fatty acids in humans, particularly in early life. The main findings are that light sensitivity of retinal rod photoreceptors is significantly reduced in newborns with n−3 fatty acid deficiency, and that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) significantly enhances visual acuity maturation and cognitive functions. DHA is a conditionally essential nutrient for adequate neurodevelopment in humans. Comprehensive clinical studies have shown that dietary supplementation with marine oil or single-cell oil sources of LC-PUFA results in increased blood levels of DHA and arachidonic acid, as well as an associated improvement in visual function in formula-fed infants matching that of human breast-fed infants. The effect is mediated not only by the known effects on membrane biophysical properties, neurotransmitter content, and the corresponding electrophysiological correlates but also by a modulating gene expression of the developing retina and brain. Intracellular fatty acids or their metabolites regulate transcriptional activation of gene expression during adipocyte differentiation and retinal and nervous system development. Regulation of gene expression by LC-PUFA occurs at the transcriptional level and may be mediated by nuclear transcription factors activated by fatty acids. These nuclear receptors are part of the family of steroid hormone receptors. DHA also has significant effects on photoreceptor membranes and neurotransmitters involved in the signal transduction process; rhodopsin activation, rod and cone development, neuronal dendritic connectivity, and functional maturation of the central nervous system.

Abbreviations

AA

arachidonic acid (20∶4n−6)

ABER

auditory brainstemevoked response

ALA

α-linolenic acid (18∶3n−3)

CNS

central nervous system

DHA

docosahexaenoic acid (22∶6n−3)

EFA

essential fatty acid

ERG

electroretinogram

FA

fatty acids

FPL

forced-choice preferential looking

GLA

γ-linolenic acid (18∶3n−6)

LA

linoleic acid (18∶2n−6)

LC-PUFA

long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids

MI

metarhodopsin I

M II

metarhodopsin II

MDI

Mental Development Index

PC

phosphatidylcholine

PPAR

peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor

PUFA

polyunsaturated fatty acid

RBC

red blood cell

RxR

retinoic acid receptor

TR

thyroxine receptor

VEP

visual-evoked potential

Copyright information

© AOCS Press 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ricardo Uauy
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dennis R. Hoffman
    • 2
  • Patricio Peirano
    • 1
  • David G. Birch
    • 2
  • Eileen E. Birch
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA)University of ChileSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Retina Foundation of the SouthwestDallas

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