Docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from alpha-linolenic acid by rat brain is unaffected by dietary n-3 PUFA deprivation.J Lipid Res. 2007 May; 48(5):1150-8.JL
Rates of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (alpha-LNA, 18:3n-3) to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) by the mammalian brain and the brain's ability to upregulate these rates during dietary deprivation of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are unknown. To answer these questions, we measured conversion coefficients and rates in post-weaning rats fed an n-3 PUFA deficient (0.2% alpha-LNA of total fatty acids, no DHA) or adequate (4.6% alpha-LNA, no DHA) diet for 15 weeks. Unanesthetized rats in each group were infused intravenously with [1-(14)C]alpha-LNA, and their arterial plasma and microwaved brains collected at 5 minutes were analyzed. The deficient compared with adequate diet reduced brain DHA by 37% and increased brain arachidonic (20:4n-6) and docosapentaenoic (22:5n-6) acids. Only 1% of plasma [1-(14)C]alpha-LNA entering brain was converted to DHA with the adequate diet, and conversion coefficients of alpha-LNA to DHA were unchanged by the deficient diet. In summary, the brain's ability to synthesize DHA from alpha-LNA is very low and is not altered by n-3 PUFA deprivation. Because the liver's reported ability is much higher, and can be upregulated by the deficient diet, DHA converted by the liver from circulating alphaLNA is the source of the brain's DHA when DHA is not in the diet.