It has been long suggested that omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), play an important role in brain development. Now, researchers have demonstrated exactly how a lack of the essential fatty acid can impact the development of brain networks and nerves, and perhaps more importantly shows that improving omega-3 intake later in development can reverse the negative impacts of deprivation in early development.
Led by Susana Cohen-Cory from the University of California at Irvine, the team used an in vivo animal model that tested the effects of maternal DHA deprevation on female frogs and tadpoles.
They found that deficiencies DHA can limit brain growth during foetal development and early in life, and negatively impacts dendrite maturation and synaptic connectivity in the developing brain - resulting in constrained growth of neurons and the synapses that connect them.
“Neurons were morphologically simpler in tadpoles from frogs fed the deficient diet compared with the adequate diet,” revealed the authors – adding that tectal neurons had ‘significantly fewer’ dendrite branches and shorter dendritic arbor over a 48 h imaging period.
However, this impaired brain development was able to be almost totally reversed with the addition of DHA at adequate levels, said Cohen-Cory.
"When we changed the diets of DHA-deficient mothers to include a proper level of this dietary fatty acid, neuronal and synaptic growth flourished and returned to normal in the following generation of tadpoles," she added.