The impact of docosahexaenoic acid on Alzheimer's disease: is there a role of the blood-brain barrier?

Yijun Pan, Hanan Khalil, Joseph Nicolazzo

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36 Citations (Scopus)


There currently is no cure or established preventative treatment for Alzheimer s disease (AD). Considering the increasing aging population and the subsequent high prevalence of AD worldwide, identifying a cost-effective way to prevent AD is an essential unmet medical need. Relative to healthy human brain samples, postmortem AD brain samples have been shown to exhibit lower docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels, an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid required for normal neuronal function. However, findings from different studies are controversial and it is not clear whether this alteration in DHA brain levels is a cause or consequence of AD. Animal studies have also demonstrated that administration of DHA can alleviate the underlying pathophysiology of AD, including but not limited to amyloid pathology, tau pathology, and neuroinflammation. Moreover, DHA has been suggested to exert cognitive-enhancing effects and epidemiological studies have suggested that regular consumption of fish or omega-3 fatty acid enriched diets can attenuate the cognitive decline in AD and/or lower the risk of developing AD. However, the beneficial effects of DHA in AD have not been clearly demonstrated by current human randomised-control trials. In addition, the underlying reasons for the lower brain levels of DHA in AD remain to be fully characterised. However, given that the brain has limited capacity to produce DHA de novo and obtains DHA from the plasma, one plausible explanation for the lower brain levels of DHA in AD is reduced bloodbrain barrier (BBB) transport of this fatty acid in AD, as has been reported in one mouse model of AD. Unfortunately, the actual mechanisms governing the BBB transport of DHA in healthy conditions are not clearly understood, complicating the relationship between reduced BBB transport of DHA, attenuated DHA brain levels and AD pathology. The purpose of this review, therefore, is to summarise the findings of the biochemical, functional and epidemiological studies assessing the impact of DHA on the progression of AD, with a focus on how brain DHA levels alter in AD, the mechanisms thought to be held responsible for the apparent protective effects of DHA in AD, and the factors governing BBB transport of DHA in AD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222 - 241
Number of pages20
JournalCurrent Clinical Pharmacology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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