Pennsylvania, United States of America.

Studies in rodents indicate that diets deficient in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) lower dopamine neurotransmission as measured by striatal vesicular monoamine transporter type 2 (VMAT2) density and amphetamine-induced dopamine release. This suggests that dietary supplementation with fish oil might increase VMAT2 availability, enhance dopamine storage and release, and improve dopamine-dependent cognitive functions such as working memory.

To investigate this mechanism in humans, positron emission tomography (PET) was used to measure VMAT2 availability pre- and post-supplementation of n-3 PUFA in healthy individuals. Healthy young adult subjects were scanned with PET using [(11)C]-(+)-α-dihydrotetrabenzine (DTBZ) before and after six months of n-3 PUFA supplementation (Lovaza, 2 g/day containing docosahexaenonic acid, DHA 750 mg/d and eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA 930 mg/d). In addition, subjects underwent a working memory task (n-back) and red blood cell membrane (RBC) fatty acid composition analysis pre- and post-supplementation.

RBC analysis showed a significant increase in both DHA and EPA post-supplementation. In contrast, no significant change in [(11)C]DTBZ binding potential (BP(ND)) in striatum and its subdivisions were observed after supplementation with n-3 PUFA. No correlation was evident between n-3 PUFA induced change in RBC DHA or EPA levels and change in [(11)C]DTBZ BP(ND) in striatal subdivisions. However, pre-supplementation RBC DHA levels was predictive of baseline performance (i.e., adjusted hit rate, AHR on 3-back) on the n-back task (y = 0.19+0.07, r(2) = 0.55, p = 0.009). In addition, subjects AHR performance improved on 3-back post-supplementation (pre 0.65±0.27, post 0.80±0.15, p = 0.04).

The correlation between n-back performance, and DHA levels are consistent with reports in which higher DHA levels is related to improved cognitive performance. However, the lack of change in [(11)C]DBTZ BP(ND) indicates that striatal VMAT2 regulation is not the mechanism of action by which n-3 PUFA improves cognitive performance.

PMID: 23056476

See following website for full manuscript.