It is widely believed that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is good for your brain, but how it is absorbed by the brain has been unknown. That is – until now. Researchers from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) have conducted a new study identifying that the transporter protein Mfsd2a carries DHA to the brain. Their findings have widespread implications for how DHA functions in human nutrition.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid most abundantly found in the brain that is thought to be crucial to its function. However, the brain does not produce DHA. Instead, DHA uptake in the brain happens in two ways. The developing brain receives DHA during fetal development, from a mother to her baby. The adult brain gets it through food or DHA produced by the liver.
In the study, led by post-doctoral fellow Long N. Nguyen of Duke-NUS, researchers found that mice without the Mfsd2a transporter had brains a third smaller than those with the transporter, and exhibited memory and learning deficits and high levels of anxiety. The team recognized that the learning, memory and behavioral function of these mice were reminiscent of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in mice starved of DHA in their diet.
“Our findings can help guide the development of technologies to more effectively incorporate DHA into food and exploit this pathway to maximize the potential for improved nutritionals to improve brain growth and function. This is especially important for pre-term babies who would not have received sufficient DHA during fetal development,” said Dr Silver, who is from the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders Program at Duke-NUS.
Source: Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. “Researchers discover how DHA omega-3 fatty acid reaches brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 May 2014.