Phospholipid fatty acids are major structural components of neuronal cell membranes, which modulate membrane fluidity and hence function. Evidence from clinical and biochemical sources have indicated changes in the metabolism of fatty acids in several psychiatric disorders.

We examined the phospholipid fatty acids in the plasma of a population of autistic subjects compared to mentally retarded controls. Our results showed a marked reduction in the levels of 22: 6n-3 (23%) in the autistic subjects, resulting in significantly lower levels of total (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (20%), without significant reduction in the (n-6) PUFA series, and consequently a significant increase in the (n-6)/(n-3) ratio (25%).

These variations are discussed in terms of potential differences in PUFA dietary intake, metabolism, or incorporation into cellular membranes between the two groups of subjects.

These results open up interesting perspectives for the investigation of new biological indices in autism. Moreover, this might have new therapeutic implications in terms of child nutrition.