Rhesus monkeys given pre- and postnatal diets deficient in n-3 essential fatty acids develop low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (22:6 n-3, DHA) in the cerebral cortex and retina and impaired visual function. This highly polyunsaturated fatty acid is an important component of retinal photoreceptors and brain synaptic membranes.

To study the turnover of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain and the reversibility of n-3 fatty acid deficiency, we fed five deficient juvenile rhesus monkeys a fish oil diet rich in DHA and other n-3 fatty acids for up to 129 weeks. The results of serial biopsy samples of the cerebral cortex indicated that the changes of brain fatty acid composition began as early as 1 week after fish oil feeding and stabilized at 12 weeks.

The DHA content of the phosphatidylethanolamine of the frontal cortex increased progressively from 3.9 +/- 1.2 to 28.4 +/- 1.7 percent of total fatty acids. The n-6 fatty acid, 22:5, abnormally high in the cerebral cortex of n-3 deficient monkeys, decreased reciprocally from 16.2 +/- 3.1 to 1.6 +/- 0.4%. The half-life (t 1/2) of DHA in brain phosphatidylethanolamine was estimated to be 21 days. The fatty acids of other phospholipids in the brain (phosphatidylcholine, -serine, and -inositol) showed similar changes. The DHA content of plasma and erythrocyte phospholipids also increased greatly, with estimated half-lives of 29 and 21 days, respectively.

We conclude that monkey cerebral cortex with an abnormal fatty acid composition produced by dietary n-3 fatty acid deficiency has a remarkable capacity to change its fatty acid content after dietary fish oil, both to increase 22:6 n-3 and to decrease 22:5 n-6 fatty acids. The biochemical evidence of n-3 fatty acid deficiency was completely corrected.

These data imply a greater lability of the fatty acids of the phospholipids of the cerebral cortex than has been hitherto appreciated.

PMID: 2139096

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