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Alzheimers Res Ther. 2011 Jan 20;3(1):2. doi: 10.1186/alzrt61.

What was lost in translation in the DHA trial is whom you should intend to treat.

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Veterans Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center, 16111 Plummer St, North Hills, CA 91343, USA.


The results of a randomized double-blind placebocontrolled trial with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease (AD) published by Quinn and colleagues in JAMA argues against overall efficacy of DHA in slowing progression. However, certain caveats in the results caution against discarding DHA altogether, raising questions about oxidation, dosage, pharmacogenomics and stage of intervention.One potential misconception is that what works for prevention will slow progression in AD subjects.Preclinical studies with DHA supported the rationale for early stage intervention; and three epidemiological studies indicated DHA intake was associated with reduced risk in non-apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4) carriers. Putative drugs are initially tested for impact on progression because prevention approaches are problematic. However, should a drug be discarded for prevention if it fails to modify progression? Consistent with epidemiology, DHA significantly benefited two measures of cognition in mild to moderate non-ApoE4 carriers. Although the results of this trial were overall negative, failing to modify other outcomes, this commentary discusses important questions raised by them. Should future trials pursue DHA in non-ApoE4 carriers for slowing progression? Since in vivo oxidation of DHA may have adverse effects, particularly in ApoE4 patients, should preclinical and clinical studies be performed to optimize dose and mitigate oxidation before pursuing intervention or prevention trials with DHA? And finally, should DHA be tested now for mild cognitive impairment or prevention?

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