BACKGROUND: It has been hypothesized that depletion of cell membrane n3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), particularly docosahexanoic acid (DHA), may be of etiological importance in depression.

METHODS: We measured the fatty acid composition of phospholipid in cell membranes from red blood cells (RBC) of 15 depressive patients and 15 healthy control subjects.

RESULTS: Depressive patients showed significant depletions of total n3 PUFA and particularly DHA. Incubation of RBC from control subjects with hydrogen peroxide abolished all significant differences between patients and controls.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that RBC membranes in depressive patients show evidence of oxidative damage. Possible interpretations, and implications for the etiology and treatment of depression, are discussed.