Essential Fatty Acids and Behavior

Is There a Role for the Eicosanoids?
  • Patricia E. Wainwright


The brain is high in lipid, a large proportion of which consists of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), particularly arachidonic acid ([AA], 20:4 n-6) and docosahexaenoic acid ([DHA], 22:6 n-3) (reviewed in Sastry, 1985). These long-chain PUFA are either obtained directly from the diet or are synthesized from their 18-carbon dietary precursors, 18:2 (n-6) (linoleic acid [LA]) and 18:3 (n-3) (α-linolenic acid [LNA]). LA and LNA are termed essential fatty acids (EFA) because, unlike plants, animals are unable to insert double bonds at the n-3 and n-6 position, and are therefore dependent for their needs on dietary supply. Besides their role as integral structural components of cell membranes, PUFA make an important contribution to regulatory function by acting as a source of the eicosanoids, of which the prostaglandins (PG) are a major component. In humans, the PUFA accrue rapidly in the brain during the third trimester and early postnatal period (Crawford et al., 1981), when the rate of brain growth is maximal, and consequently most vulnerable to nutritional deficits (Dobbing, 1990). Dietary EFA deficiency is associated with reproductive failure, and various other pathological symptoms, including retardation of growth and development, that can be prevented by supplementation with LA or AA (reviewed in Innis, 1991).


Essential Fatty Acid Inescapable Shock Medial Preoptic Area Morris Maze Dietary Essential Fatty Acid 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

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  • Patricia E. Wainwright

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