Dietary n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Brain Lipid Fatty Acid Composition

  • Gudrun V. SkuladottirEmail author


Lipids make up about 50% of the dry weight of the mammalian adult brain. The main structural lipid form of the grey matter is phospholipids (PL), which contain a high amount of both the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) and the n-6 PUFA arachidonic acid (20:4n-6). The main source of both these PUFA is diet. The human diet primarily contains the essential PUFẠα-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3) and the linoleic acid (18:2n-6) synthesized by plants. Studies indicate that the conversion of ALA to DHA is limited in the human body, and it is debated whether dietary ALA can fulfill the needs of the human body, or whether dietary intake of preformed DHA is necessary. Specific 18:2n-6 deficiency does not seem to occur in humans. This fatty acid is present in variable quantities in the majority of food, and in the body 18:2n-6 is converted to 20:4n-6. Recent data support the hypothesis on estrogen regulation of PUFA metabolism, e.g., that gender has an important influence on DHA content of tissues. Several postmortem studies have reported that the lipids in brain regions of normal animals exhibit different content of DHA and 20:4n-6. The DHA content in brain PL is affected by diet, gender, and age. Low DHA content in brain lipids has been linked to altered animal and human behavior, a variety of neurological disorders such as impaired cognitive and sensory functions, psychiatric disorders, and degenerative diseases. Studies have shown that an n-3 PUFA-enriched diet can rapidly reverse a severe n-3 PUFA deficiency in the brains of primates. In view of the significant impact of both dietary n-3 PUFA and n-6 PUFA on homeostasis and normal development, the studies referred to in this chapter mainly focus on normal subjects and balanced n-6 and n-3 PUFA diet.


Fatty Acid Composition Essential Fatty Acid Docosahexaenoic Acid Brain Lipid Dietary PUFA 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



α-Linolenic acid (18:3n-3)


Docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)


Docosapentaenoic acid (22:5n-3)


Eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3)












Polyunsaturated fatty acids




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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, School of Health SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland

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