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28 July 2018 - Nutraingredients - Molecular mechanisms: Could omega-3 metabolite offer hope in battle against age-related diseases?

Emma Jane Cash

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For links to recent stories on the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and the brain, click here.

A signalling molecule produced by the the omega-3 fatty acid DHA could be used to target age-related conditions and diseases including stroke and Alzheimer’s, new research suggests.

A greater understanding of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) could lead to effective targets and therapies for a variety of diseases, according to a new review published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The team from LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine reported that DHA has been found to produce signalling molecules (docosanoids) when the body’s state of equilibrium is altered due to disease or injury.

One docosanoid in particular, Neuroprotectin D1 (NDP1), is said to protect neurons in the retina and brain, causing researchers to believe this could be a possible route of therapy.

“It is our hope that this knowledge will contribute to managing early stages of such devastating diseases as Alzheimer’s stroke, traumatic brain injury, age-related macular degeneration, Parkinson’s and others,” said lead researcher Professor Nicolas Bazan.

Omega-3 and health

Omega-3, found in foods such as salmon, tuna, algae and walnuts, is well-researched and has many suggested and established health benefits, including established EFSA claims relating to the the maintenance of normal vision, brain function, function of the heart, maintenance of normal blood triglycerides level normal blood pressure.

Furthermore, research has suggested that omega-3 may play a role in  preventing Alzheimer’s disease , reducing cardiovascular disease risk and decreasing mortality rates in postmenopausal women .

According to the omega-3 index, an 8% percentage of omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) + DHA in red blood cells is desirable, while a score of 4% is considered a danger zone. 

DHA and NPD1 

The new review sheds light on the role of DHA and its NDP1 metabolite on homeostasis changes in the body.

According to the team behind the study, the molecule provokes neuroprotection in cases of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and in experimental stroke. Administration of the molecule was also found to reduce stroke damage and also save tissue in the rim surrounding the stroke core, said Bazan and colleagues. 

Furthermore, in case of Alzheimer’s disease, NPD1’s inflammatory properties have been suggested to play a part in preventing the progression of the disease.

Previous research has shown clinical symptoms of early-stage Alzheimer’s include neuro-inflammation, damage to dendritic spines and problems with cell-to-cell communication, all of which coincide with decreased DHA levels in the brain.

Could DHA prevent cell death?

The US-based researchers suggest that NPD1’s inflammatory properties help restore a state of equilibrium in the body, aiding the recovery of cells, and preventing cell death.

“Cell death is considered to be reversible until a first ‘point-of-no-return’ checkpoint is passed,” said Bazan, who noted that although cells can die in multiple ways, by far the most studied forms of cell death are apoptosis and necrosis.

“In degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, age-related macular degeneration and stroke, dysregulation of apoptosis is a central event,” he said.

However, the team believes that NPD1 can prevent cells from reaching this ‘checkpoint’ in cell death activation pathways, including apoptosis, necrosis, necroptosis, pyroptosis, and pyrnecrosis.

“Understanding the molecular mechanisms of action of dietary essential fatty acids will lead to effective treatments of diseases and conditions such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, age-related macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, and other retinal and neurodegenerative diseases,” Bazan said.