• docosahexaenoic acid;
  • functional recovery;
  • infant nutrition;
  • learning ability;
  • Morris water maze;
  • n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiency


Infants fed vegetable oil-based formulas may have poorer visual function, lower cognitive scores and acquire learning tasks more slowly in comparison with those breast fed or those fed formulas supplemented with docosahexaenoate. The aim of the present study was to determine the reversibility of losses in brain function associated with the loss of brain DHA. Rats were fed very low or adequate levels of n-3 fatty acids through three generations. The n-3 fatty acid deficient animals of the F3 generation were then given an n-3 adequate diet containing alpha-linolenic and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) at birth, weaning (3 weeks) or young adulthood (7 weeks). The spatial task performance of these animals returned to the n-3 adequate diet was then compared using the Morris water at two different ages, at 9 or 13 weeks. Our results indicate that animals repleted since birth or at weaning were able to achieve nearly the same level of brain DHA and spatial task performance as animals maintained for three generations on an n-3 adequate diet. In the case of young adult animals, the degree of DHA and behavioral performance recovery depended upon the duration of dietary repletion with substantial recovery in animals after 6 weeks but little recovery of function after two weeks. The significance of these findings is that they indicate that at least some of the adverse effects of DHA deficiency during neurodevelopment may be reversible with an n-3 fatty acid supplemented diet.