Investigating the Relationship between Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Prefrontal Cortex Development during Adolescence
Darcey, Valerie L.
Delivery of building blocks essential for brain development is critical for the normal development of the brain and behavior. Omega-3 (N3) fatty acids are essential nutrients, which can only be obtained from the diet. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long chain omega-3 fatty acid found in cold-water seafood, is highly enriched in neuronal membranes of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). During the time between infancy and young adulthood, when DHA accrues rapidly in the PFC, the PFC undergoes dramatic but protracted changes and is comparatively one of the last of the parts of the brain to fully develop. During early life, the PFC initially undergoes progressive changes (i.e., over-production of synapses, dendritic arborization, and growth of cell size) reflected by increasing gray matter volume, which is followed by a protracted period of regressive events (i.e., pruning of superfluous synapses, reduction in dendrites, glia and associated microvasculature) manifesting as cortical thinning. These progressive and regressive cortical changes are supported by DHA and are associated with improvements in intelligence and executive function including impulse control. The ability to exercise inhibitory control has been associated with multiple long-term outcomes such as career/earning potential and health. There is evidence that N3 status is related to both impulse control in clinical populations and prefrontal cortical structure and function. Given DHA’s role in cortical development and its importance in PFC development, concern is raised by the trend showing net decreases in N3 fatty acid intake in the United States. The present study examines the relationship between N3 status and the function and structure of the prefrontal cortex with respect to ability to inhibit impulses in typically developing adolescents. We used maternal infant feeding practices (i.e., breastfeeding duration) to examine whether differential exposure to N3 fatty acids in infancy has an impact on impulse control and related prefrontal function during adolescence. Additionally, we examined whether current N3 status (assessed via dietary report and whole blood levels) was related to impulse regulation, prefrontal function and gray matter volume. Our results suggest that long-chain omega-3 fatty acid status both during infancy and during adolescence has an impact on adolescent brain development and behavioral outcomes.
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