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Front Neurosci. 2019 Feb 25;13:72. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00072. eCollection 2019.

A Diet With Docosahexaenoic and Arachidonic Acids as the Sole Source of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Is Sufficient to Support Visual, Cognitive, Motor, and Social Development in Mice.

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Vascular Biology Program and Department of Surgery, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.
Department of Neurology, F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center, Boston Children's Hospital - Program in Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.
Institutional Centers for Clinical and Translational Research, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.
Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.
Department of Pharmacy, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.


Polyunsaturated fatty acids serve multiple functions in neurodevelopment and neurocognitive function. Intravenous lipid emulsions are administered to children that are dependent on parenteral nutrition to provide the essential fatty acids needed to sustain growth and development. One of these emulsions, derived from fish-oil, is particularly poor in the traditional essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids. However, it does contain adequate amounts of its main derivatives, arachidonic acid (ARA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), respectively. This skewed composition has raised concern about the sole use of fish-oil based lipid emulsions in children and how its administration can be detrimental to their neurodevelopment. Using a custom-made diet that contains ARA and DHA as a sole source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, we bred and fed mice for multiple generations. Compared to adult, chow-fed mice, animals maintained on this special diet showed similar outcomes in a battery of neurocognitive tests performed under controlled conditions. Chow-fed mice did perform better in the rotarod test for ataxia and balance, although both experimental groups showed a conserved motor learning capacity. Conversely, mice fed the custom diet rich in DHA and ARA showed less neophobia than the chow-fed animals. Results from these experiments suggest that providing a diet where ARA and DHA are the sole source of polyunsaturated fatty acids is sufficient to support gross visual, cognitive, motor, and social development in mice.


arachidonic acid (AA); diet; docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); neurocognition; omega-3 fatty acids; polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA)

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