Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the major polyunsaturated fatty acid within rod outer segments. Varying the dietary content of DHA or its precursor, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can alter retinal DHA levels. The purpose of the present study was to assess rod phototransduction and recovery in rhesus monkeys raised on diets with different DHA and ALA content.

Adult rhesus monkeys had consumed from birth a diet low in ALA (0.3%) and known to induce an 80% reduction in retinal DHA. They were compared with groups receiving 8% ALA or 0.6% DHA, both of which support normal retinal DHA levels. Rod recovery was assessed with a double-flash protocol using a-wave saturating test flashes. The recovery of rod-isolated ERG a-wave amplitude was analyzed to determine Tc, the time to initiation of rod recovery, and T50, the time from initiation to 50% of full recovery. Phototransduction was assessed from the fit of a quantitative model to the leading edges of rod-isolated ERG a-waves. ERG a- and b-wave amplitudes and implicit times were also measured.

Rod recovery (T50) was delayed by 30% and ERG implicit times by 5% in monkeys in the low ALA group compared with the other groups. There was no significant effect of diet on ERG amplitudes, the time to initiation of rod recovery, or the parameters describing phototransduction.

The results indicate that mechanisms involved in deactivation and rod recovery are selectively altered in monkeys raised on a low-ALA diet whereas, at the flash intensities used, the mechanisms underlying phototransduction remain unaffected.