Adolescence is a period of major brain white matter (WM) changes, and membrane lipid metabolism likely plays a critical role in brain WM myelination. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) are essential components of cell membranes including oligodendrocytes, and LC-PUFA release and turnover in membranes is regulated by phospholipase A2 enzymes. To investigate the role of membrane lipid metabolism in healthy WM myelination across adolescence, the present study examined the relationship between membrane LC-PUFA biostatus, phospholipase A2 activity, and brain WM microstructure in healthy subjects aged 9-20years (n=30). Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was performed to measure average fractional anisotropy (FA) and diffusivity (indices sensitive to WM myelination) of nine major cerebral WM tracts. Blood samples were collected to measure erythrocyte membrane fatty acid concentrations and plasma intracellular phospholipase A2 activity (inPLA2). Plasma inPLA2 activity showed a significant U-curved association with WM radial diffusivity, and an inverted U-curved association with WM FA, independent of age. A significant positive linear correlation was observed between docosahexaenoic acid concentration and axial diffusivity in the corpus callosum. These findings suggest that there may be optimal physiological inPLA2 activity levels associated with healthy WM myelination in late childhood and adolescence. Myelination may be mediated by cleavage of docosahexaenoic acid from membrane phospholipids by inPLA2. These findings have implications for our understanding of the role of LC-PUFA homeostasis in myelin-related neurodevelopmental disorders.
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