Novel pathway of metabolism of α-linolenic acid in the guinea pig

Zhong Fu, Andrew J. Sinclair

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Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plays an important role in the nervous system. The capacity of the infant to use the essential fatty acid α- linolenic acid (ALA) as a substrate for neural DHA has been the subject of much debate recently. In this study, we explored the metabolic fate of an oral dose of 14C-labeled ALA in guinea pigs fed a defined diet for 3 wk from weaning. Of the 14C-labeled ALA administered, more than 46% was associated with the skin and fur lipids, mostly in the FFA fraction, and less than 0.1% was in brain lipids. About 39% of the label was not recovered in the body lipids and was assumed to be expired as CO2 or unabsorbed. The fur and skin were almost equally labeled; however, because of the very low mass of ALA in the fur, the specific activity of the fur was very high. These data identify a new route of metabolism of ALA in this species, presumably through the sebaceous glands onto fur. If this pathway exists in other species, including humans, it may account for the poor efficiency of conversion of ALA to DHA, because dietary ALA would not be available for anabolic pathways such as DHA synthesis. The relevance of these data to infants is that ALA may play an important hitherto unidentified role in the skin related to barrier function or epidermal integrity. This calls for more research into the importance of ALA as an essential fatty acid in its own right in human infants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-417
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000
Externally publishedYes

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