Omega-3 fatty acid lipid findings could be a game-changer in the aging brain

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Jonathan Kitchen
Getty Images / Jonathan Kitchen

Related tags Cognition omega-3

The new understanding could lead to the development of dietary supplements aimed at help mitigating the damaging effects of aging on the brain.

A new study carried out by researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School and the National University of Singapore recently discovered that Mfsd2a – a major transporter for DHA uptake into brain–plays a major role in regulating brain cells that ensure nerves are protected by an insulating layer called myelin sheaths.

The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, have the potential to help reduce the degenerating impacts of aging on the brain.

Myelin and aging

Myelin’s insulating role is essential for normal motor and sensory functions as well as cognition.

It is also essential for the quick communication between nerve cells that help power the brain. With age, myelin sheaths naturally start to degenerate, a key reason why elderly populations often lose their physical and mental abilities.

“Loss of myelin sheaths occurs during the normal aging process and in neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr Sengottuvel Vetrivel, Senior Research Fellow with Duke-NUS’ Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders (CVMD) Program and lead investigator of the study. “Developing therapies to improve myelination—the formation of the myelin sheath—in aging and disease is of great importance to ease any difficulties caused by declining myelination.”

The study

The researchers demonstrated that removing Mfsd2a from precursor cells that mature into myelin-producing cells (oligodendrocytes) in the brain led to deficient myelination after birth.
Additional investigations showed that Mfsd2a’s absence caused fatty acid molecules— especially omega-3 fats—to be reduced in the precursor cells. This reduction prevented the precursor cells from maturing into oligodendrocytes that produce myelin.

“Our study indicates that LPC omega-3 lipids act as factors within the brain to direct oligodendrocyte development, a process that is critical for brain myelination,” explained Professor David Silver, the senior author of the study and Deputy Director of the CVMD Program. “This opens up potential avenues to develop therapies and dietary supplements based on LPC omega-3 lipids that might help retain myelin in the aging brain.”

Omega-3 to re-myelinate

Looking ahead, Silver said the research team is now aiming to conduct preclinical studies to determine if dietary LPC omega-3 can help to re-myelinate damaged axons in the brain.

“Our hope is that supplements containing these fats can help to maintain—or even improve—brain myelination and cognitive function during aging,” added Silver.

Source: The Journal of Clinical Investigation
“Deficiency in the omega-3 lysolipid transporter mfsd2a leads to aberrant oligodendrocyte lineage development and hypomyelination”
Authors: V. Sengottuvel et al.

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