Neuroinflammation is a proposed mechanism by which Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology potentiates neuronal death and cognitive decline. Consumption of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) is associated with a decreased risk of AD in human observational studies and exerts protective effects on cognition and pathology in animal models. These fatty acids and molecules derived from them are known to have anti-inflammatory and pro-resolving properties, presenting a potential mechanism for these protective effects.
Here, we explore this mechanism using fat-1 transgenic mice and their wild type littermates weaned onto either a fish oil diet (high in n-3 PUFA) or a safflower oil diet (negligible n-3 PUFA). The fat-1 mouse carries a transgene that enables it to convert omega-6 to omega-3 PUFA. At 12 weeks of age, mice underwent intracerebroventricular (icv) infusion of amyloid-β 1-40. Brains were collected between 1 and 28 days post-icv, and hippocampal microglia, astrocytes, and degenerating neurons were quantified by immunohistochemistry with epifluorescence microscopy, while microglia morphology was assessed with confocal microscopy and skeleton analysis.
Fat-1 mice fed with the safflower oil diet and wild type mice fed with the fish oil diet had higher brain DHA in comparison with the wild type mice fed with the safflower oil diet. Relative to the wild type mice fed with the safflower oil diet, fat-1 mice exhibited a lower peak in the number of labelled microglia, wild type mice fed with fish oil had fewer degenerating neurons, and both exhibited alterations in microglia morphology at 10 days post-surgery. There were no differences in astrocyte number at any time point and no differences in the time course of microglia or astrocyte activation following infusion of amyloid-β 1-40.
Increasing brain DHA, through either dietary or transgenic means, decreases some elements of the inflammatory response to amyloid-β in a mouse model of AD. This supports the hypothesis that omega-3 PUFA may be protective against AD by modulating the immune response to amyloid-β.