With important effects on neuronal lipid composition, neurochemical signaling and cerebrovascular pathobiology, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, may emerge as a neuroprotective agent against cerebrovascular disease. This paper examines pathways for DHA accretion in brain and evidence for possible roles of DHA in prophylactic and therapeutic approaches for cerebrovascular disease.

DHA is a major n-3 fatty acid in the mammalian central nervous system and enhances synaptic activities in neuronal cells. DHA can be obtained through diet or to a limited extent via conversion from its precursor, α-linolenic acid (α-LNA). DHA attenuates brain necrosis after hypoxic ischemic injury, principally by modulating membrane biophysical properties and maintaining integrity in functions between presynaptic and postsynaptic areas, resulting in better stabilizing intracellular ion balance in hypoxic-ischemic insult. Additionally, DHA alleviates brain apoptosis, by inducing antiapoptotic activities such as decreasing responses to reactive oxygen species, upregulating antiapoptotic protein expression, downregulating apoptotic protein expression, and maintaining mitochondrial integrity and function.

DHA in brain relates to a number of efficient delivery and accretion pathways. In animal models DHA renders neuroprotection after hypoxic-ischemic injury by regulating multiple molecular pathways and gene expression.