Grasas y Aceites, Vol 60, No 2 (2009)

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid for the proper functioning of neuronal cells: their role in mood disorders

Alfonso Valenzuela B



The brain and the nervous system are tissues with high contents of two polyunsaturated fatty acids: arachidonic acid (20:4, omega-6, AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6, omega-3, DHA). Despite their abundance in these tissues, AA and DHA cannot be re-synthesized in mammals. However, the concentration of these fatty acids can be modulated by dietary intake. AA and DHA must be provided by the diet as such (preformed) or through the respective omega-6 and omega-3 precursors from vegetable origin. Linoleic acid, the precursor of AA is very abundant in the western diet and therefore the formation of AA from linoleic acid is not restrictive. On the other hand, alpha linolenic acid, the precursor of DHA is less available in our diet and preformed DHA is highly restrictive in some populations. During the last period of gestation and during the early post natal period, neurodevelopment occurs exceptionally quickly, and significant amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially DHA, are critical to allow neurite outgrowth and the proper brain and retina development and function. In this review various functions of DHA in the nervous system, its metabolism into phospholipids, and its involvement in different neurological and mood disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and others are revised.


Brain phospholipids; Docosahexaenoic acid; Mood disorders; Neural function

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