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Nutr Metab (Lond). 2017 Nov 28;14:75. doi: 10.1186/s12986-017-0230-2. eCollection 2017.

Retroconversion is a minor contributor to increases in eicosapentaenoic acid following docosahexaenoic acid feeding as determined by compound specific isotope analysis in rat liver.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, 150 College St., Room 307, Fitzgerald Building, Toronto, ON M5S 3E2 Canada.


Dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) not only increases blood and tissue levels of DHA, but also eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3). It is generally believed that this increase is due to DHA retroconversion to EPA, however, a slower conversion of α-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3) derived EPA to downstream metabolic products (i.e. slower turnover of EPA) is equally plausible. In this study, 21-day old Long Evans rats were weaned onto an ALA only or DHA + ALA diet for 12 weeks. Afterwards, livers were collected and the natural abundance 13C-enrichment was determined by compound specific isotope analysis (CSIA) of liver EPA by isotope ratio mass-spectrometry and compared to dietary ALA and DHA 13C-enrichment. Isotopic signatures (per mil, ‰) for liver EPA were not different (p > 0.05) between the ALA only diet (-25.89 ± 0.39 ‰, mean ± SEM) and the DHA + ALA diet (-26.26 ± 0.40 ‰), suggesting the relative contribution from dietary ALA and DHA to liver EPA did not change. However, with DHA feeding estimates of absolute EPA contribution from ALA increased 4.4-fold (147 ± 22 to 788 ± 153 nmol/g) compared to 3.2-fold from DHA (91 ± 14 to 382 ± 13 nmol/g), respectively. In conclusion, CSIA of liver EPA in rats following 12-weeks of dietary DHA suggests that retroconversion of DHA to EPA is a relatively small contributor to increases in EPA, and that this increase in EPA is largely coming from elongation/desaturation of ALA.


Alpha-linolenic acid; Docosahexaenoic acid; Eicosapentaenoic acid; Liver; Metabolism; Retroconversion

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