Membrane abnormalities in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been reported in schizophrenia and have been associated with brain tissue loss in normal ageing. Therefore PUFA may be involved in the excessive brain tissue loss reported in schizophrenia.

A systematic MEDLINE database search was conducted to identify studies that compared PUFAs in erythrocyte membranes in patients and controls. Patients were categorized by medication regime in medication naive first-episode patients, and patients receiving typical or atypical antipsychotics.

Fourteen studies were included, comprising a total of 429 patients with schizophrenia and 444 healthy control subjects. Cohen's d effect sizes were calculated for PUFAs in erythrocyte membranes using the random-effects model. Combined Cohen's d was calculated separately for patients on different medication regime.

Medication-naive patients and patients taking typical antipsychotics showed significantly (p<0.01) decreased concentrations of arachidonic (AA), docosahexaenoic (DHA), and docosapentaenoic (DPA) acid. In addition, patients taking typical antipsychotics showed decreased linoleic (LA), dihomo-γ-linolenic acid (DGLA), eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosatetraenoic (DTA) acid (p<0.01). Patients taking atypical antipsychotics showed decreased DHA (p<0.01) only.

PUFA concentrations in erythrocyte membranes are decreased in schizophrenia. Of particular importance in patients are lower concentrations of DHA and AA, two fatty acids that are abundant in the brain and important precursors in the cell-signalling cascade.