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Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jan;93(1):211-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.006189. Epub 2010 Nov 24.

Genetic variants of the fatty acid desaturase gene cluster predict amounts of red blood cell docosahexaenoic and other polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnant women: findings from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Dr von Hauner Children's Hospital, University of Munich Medical Center, Munich, Germany.



Blood and tissue long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LC-PUFA) amounts, which have been associated with early development and lifelong health, depend on dietary intake and endogenous conversion of precursor fatty acids (FAs) by the enzymes Δ⁵-desaturase and Δ⁶-desaturase. Polymorphisms in the desaturase encoding genes FADS1 and FADS2 have been associated with several n-6 (omega-6) and n-3 (omega-3) FAs and especially with arachidonic acid (AA) amounts. Associations with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is considered particularly important for brain and retina development, are hardly existent.


We explored the relation between FADS gene cluster polymorphisms and red blood cell (RBC) FA amounts in > 4000 pregnant women participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.


Linear regression analysis of 17 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the FADS gene cluster was conducted with RBC phospholipid FAs from 6711 samples from 4457 women obtained throughout pregnancy (mean ± SD gestational age: 26.8 ± 8.2 wk).


Independent of dietary effects, the minor alleles were consistently positively associated with precursor FAs and negatively associated with LC-PUFAs and product:substrate ratios of the n-6 (AA:linoleic acid ratio) and n-3 (eicosapentaenoic acid:α-linolenic acid ratio) pathways. In contrast to previous studies, we also showed significant inverse associations with DHA. Similar but weaker associations were shown for the FADS3 SNP rs174455.


FADS genotypes influence DHA amounts in maternal RBC phospholipids and might affect the child's DHA supply during pregnancy. It is highly likely that a gene product of FADS3 has a desaturating activity.

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