In contrast to other tissues, the nervous system is enriched in the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4 n-6) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6 n-3). Despite their abundance in the nervous system, AA and DHA cannot be synthesized de novo by mammals; they, or their precursors, must be ingested from dietary sources and transported to the brain.

During late gestation and the early postnatal period, neurodevelopment is exceptionally rapid, and substantial amounts of PUFAs, especially DHA, are critical to ensure neurite outgrowth as well as proper brain and retina development.

Here, we review the various functions of DHA in the nervous system, the proteins involved in its internalization and metabolism into phospholipids, and its relationship to several neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and depression.