Can a novel method of increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the brain prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease?
Sugasini Dhavamani, Ph.D.
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, IL - United States
Past studies indicate that people with Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid, in their brain. DHA may be found in fish oil and may help promote brain health and other cognitive abilities.
Scientists are trying to uncover the mechanisms by which DHA may reduce dementia risk. In preliminary studies, Dr. Sugasini Dhavamani and colleagues have been studying a particular form of DHA — called lysophosphatidyl choline (LPC) DHA — in mice. The researchers found that by feeding the mice with LPC-DHA, they could double the animals’ DHA brain levels. Subsequent analysis found that this treatment also improved the spatial memory in mice, or their ability to navigate around an environment. In another study, based on experiments with microglia (an immune cell in the brain) Dr. Dhavamani found that LPC-DHA could block the cells’ ability to produce toxic inflammation, which is often observed in the brain of an individual with Alzheimer’s disease. Based on these findings, Dr. Dhavamani’s proposes to examine if LPC-DHA plays a role in preventing or delaying the progression of dementia.
Dr. Dhavamani and colleagues will study LPC-DHA’s role in brain health. First, the researchers will feed diets enriched in LPC-DHA to genetically engineered Alzheimer’s-like mice. After 8 months of feed, the researchers will measure DHA levels in the animals’ brains and assess whether the therapy may promote brain health and potentially reduce risk of Alzheimer’s by (1) blocking the accumulation of beta-amyloid, which forms harmful clumps called plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s; (2) preventing toxic brain inflammation; and (3) activating compounds that encourage nerve cell health.
Dr. Dhavamani will also assess how the LPC-DHA enriched diet impacts the animals’ memory and behavior. In a related experiment, the researchers will grow microglial cells with LPC-DHA in a laboratory dish. The researchers will then determine whether LPC-DHA can block the microglia from producing inflammatory proteins, a key process thought to contribute to toxic brain inflammation.
The study results could help clarify the role of diet enriched in omega-3 fatty acids in impacting brain health. If successful, the results could pave the way for a strategy towards prevention or slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
This project was made possible by the Heart of America Chapter
Back to Top