Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been proven critical in the development and management of major depressive disorder (MDD) by a number of epidemiological, clinical and preclinical studies, but the molecular mechanisms underlying this therapeutic action are yet to be understood. Although eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) seems to be the active component of omega-3 PUFAs' antidepressant effects, the biological research about the difference of specific genetic regulations between EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two main components of omega-3 PUFAs, is still lacking in human subjects.
We conducted a 12-week randomized-controlled trial comparing the effects of EPA and DHA on gene expressions of phospholipase A2 (cPLA2) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2), serotonin transporter (5HTT), and Tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH-2) in 27 MDD patients. In addition, the erythrocyte PUFA compositions and the candidate gene expressions were also compared between these 27 MDD patients and 22 healthy controls.
EPA was associated with a significant decrease in HAM-D scores (CI: -13 to -21, p<0.001) and significant increases in erythrocyte levels of EPA (CI: +1.0% to +2.9%, p=0.001) and DHA (CI: +2.9% to +5.6%, p=0.007). DHA treatment was associated with a significant decrease in HAM-D scores (CI: -6 to -14, p<0.001) and a significant increase in DHA levels (CI: +0.2% to +2.3%, p=0.047), but not of EPA levels. The cPLA2 gene expression levels were significantly increased in patients received EPA (1.9 folds, p=0.038), but not DHA (1.08 folds, p=0.92). There was a tendency for both EPA and DHA groups to decrease COX-2 gene expressions. The gene expressions of COX-2, cPLA2, TPH-2 and 5-HTT did not differ between MDD cases and healthy controls.
EPA differentiates from DHA in clinical antidepressant efficacy and in upregulating cPLA2 gene regulations, which supports the clinical observation showing the superiority of EPA's antidepressant effects.