Specific Brain Regions of Female Rats Are Differentially Depleted of Docosahexaenoic Acid by Reproductive Activity and an (n-3) Fatty Acid-Deficient Diet


Levant B, Ozias MK, Carlson SE. J Nutr 2007;137:130-34.


Low tissue levels of (n-3) PUFA, particularly docosahexaenoic acid [DHA, 22:6(n-3)], are implicated in postpartum depression. Brain DHA content is depleted in female rats undergoing pregnancy and lactation when the diet supplies inadequate (n-3) PUFA. In this study, the effects of DHA depletion as a result of reproductive activity and an (n-3) PUFA-deficient diet were examined in 8 specific brain regions of female rats after undergoing 2 sequential reproductive cycles. Virgin females, fed the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)-containing or deficient (low-ALA) diets for a commensurate duration (13 wk) served as a control for reproduction. Total phospholipid composition of each brain region was determined at weaning (postnatal d 21) by TLC/GC. The regional PUFA composition of ALA virgins was similar to that previously measured in male rats. All brain regions examined were affected by reproductive activity and/or the low-ALA diet; however, the magnitude of the loss of DHA and compensatory incorporation of docosapentaenoic acid [(n-6) DPA, 22:5(n-6)] varied among brain regions. In low-ALA parous dams, frontal cortex (77% of ALA virgin) and temporal lobe (83% of ALA virgin), regions involved in cognition and affect, were among those exhibiting the greatest depletion of DHA. Caudate-putamen also exhibited significant depletion of DHA (82% of ALA virgin), whereas only (n-6) DPA levels were altered in ventral striatum, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and cerebellum. This pattern of changes in regional DHA and (n-6) DPA content suggests that specific neuronal systems may be differentially affected by depletion of brain DHA in the postpartum organism.