Food and Behaviour Research

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N-3 fatty acid deficiency induced by a modified artificial rearing method leads to poorer performance in spatial learning tasks

Lim SY, Hoshiba J, Moriguchi T, Salem N Jr. (2005) Pediatr Res.  58(4): 741-8. 

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Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a major structural component of the nervous system, and depletion may lead to losses in neural function. Our objective was to demonstrate a deficit in spatial task performance in rats with low brain DHA due to a low n-3 fatty acid intake using a first-generational artificial rearing technique.

Newborn rat pups were separated on d 2 and assigned to two artificial rearing groups or a dam-reared control group. Pups were hand fed artificial milk via custom-designed nursing bottles containing either 0.02% (n-3 Def) or 3.1% (n-3 Adq) of total fatty acids as LNA. At d 21, rats were weaned to either n-3 Def or n-3 Adq pelleted diets and several behavioral tasks were evaluated at 9 wk of age.

Brain DHA was lower (58% and 61%, p < 0.001) in n-3 Def in comparison to n-3 Adq and dam-reared rats, respectively. At adulthood, the n-3 fatty acid-deficient rats had a significantly greater moving time than the dam-reared group (p < 0.05), but there were no differences among the three groups in the elevated plus maze test. The n-3 fatty acid deficient rats exhibited a longer escape latency (p < 0.05) and poorer memory retention in the Morris water maze compared with n-3 fatty acid adequate and dam-reared rats.

We concluded that artificial rearing can be used to produce n-3 fatty acid deficiency in the first generation. This deficiency was associated with significantly reduced spatial learning. Adequate brain DHA levels are required for optimal spatial learning.