The effects of n-3 fatty acid deficiency and repletion upon the fatty acid composition and function of the brain and retina.

W. E. Connor, M. Neuringer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


It is now apparent that both n-6 and n-3 fatty acids are essential for normal development in mammals, and that each has specific functions in the body. N-6 fatty acids are necessary primarily for growth, reproduction, and the maintenance of skin integrity, whereas n-3 fatty acids are involved in the development and function of the retina and cerebral cortex and perhaps other organs such as the testes. Fetal life and infancy are particularly critical for the nervous tissue development. Therefore, with respect to human nutrition, adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids should be provided during pregnancy, lactation and infancy, but probably throughout life. We estimate that adequate levels are provided by diets containing 6-8% kcals from linoleic acid and 1% from n-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid, EPA and DHA), resulting in a ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids of 4:1 to 10:1. The essentiality of n-3 fatty acids resides in their presence as DHA in vital membranes of the photoreceptors of the retina and the synaptosomes and other subcellular membranes of the brain. The replacement of DHA in deficient animals by the n-6 fatty acid, 22:5, results in abnormal functioning of the membranes for reasons as yet to be ascertained. Most significant is the lability of fatty acid composition in the retinal and brain of deficient animals. Dietary fish oil, which contains EPA and DHA, will readily lead to a change in the composition of the membrane of retina and brain, fatty acids, with DHA replacing the n-6 fatty acid, 22:5. The interrelationships between the chemistry of neural and retinal membranes as affected by diet and their biological functioning provides an exciting prospect for future investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-294
Number of pages20
JournalProgress in clinical and biological research
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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