12 January - 20 June 2016

Brain fatty acid metabolism and Alzheimer’s disease

A study by researchers from universities in the UK and US and published in PLOS Medicine has sought to examine the association between fatty acid metabolism in the brain and Alzheimer’s disease.

A study by researchers from universities in the UK and US and published in PLOS Medicine has sought to examine the association between fatty acid metabolism in the brain and Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease which shows symptoms in a range of cognitive functions including memory and language. It is estimated that there are over 46 million people suffering from AD globally. In brain tissue, AD causes accumulation of amyloid-β (Aβ) plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Snowden et al note that the metabolic basis of AD and its symptoms is not well-understood. They also state that while Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids have been linked to both “protective and pathogenic” effects in AD, little work had been performed to see how concentrations of these fatty acids is affected by different levels of the disease in brain tissue

Snowden et al. performed metabolic profiling of brain tissue samples from 43 individuals classified in to 3 groups, a control group showing no AD symptoms or changes in brain tissue, an AD group, who showed cognitive impairment during life and an asymptomatic AD group (ASYMAD) – individuals showing no cognitive impairment during life but significant AD changes in brain tissue at death. The scientists looked at samples of brain tissue from three areas of the brain:  Middle frontal gyrus (MFG), typically vulnerable to Aβ deposition; Inferior temporal gyrus (ITG), vulnerable to neurofibrillary tangles; the cerebellum (CB), usually relatively free from AD tissue changes. Levels of several metabolites, including several Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, were measured in these samples. The researchers compared the levels of metabolites in each region of the brain across the three groups noted.

Following various statistical analyses, Snowden et al discovered that five unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs) – linoleic acid, linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), oleic acid and arachidonic acid -, showed lower levels in the ITG and MFG brain regions in samples from the AD group compared to the control group. In addition, the researchers also found higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in ITG and MFG tissue in the AD group than the control group samples while the CB samples in the AD group had lower levels of EPA compared to the control. The levels in MFG tissue samples for linoleic acid, linolenic acid, oleic acid and arachidonic acid showed the pattern control>ASYMAD>AD while DHA levels in MFG samples were in the order AD>ASYMAD>control. Snowden et al. also found that lower levels of linoleic acid, linolenic acid, EPA, oleic acid and arachidonic acid and higher levels of DHA were “related to worse cognitive performance”.

In discussion, Snowden et al. state that their results suggest that changes in brain UFA metabolism are closely related to the development of AD and note that their study is the first show a relationship between brain tissue levels of UFAs and both the severity of AD and expression of AD symptoms.

RSSL's Lipids Laboratory has expertise in all aspects of fat analysis and fatty acid profiling, including the determination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com

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