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Effects of maternal malnutrition and postnatal nutritional rehabilitation on brain fatty acids, learning, and memory


MG Tavares do Carmo, Instituto de Nutrição Josué de Castro, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Av. Carlos Chagas Filho, 373. Bloco J, sala 21, 2° andar. Ilha do Fundão, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. E-mail:, Phone: +55-21-25626596, Fax: +55-21-22808343.


Undernutrition still affects mothers and children in developing countries and thus remains the major focus of nutritional intervention efforts. Neuronal development, which classically includes neurogenesis, migration, maturation, and synapse refinement, begins in utero and continues into the early postnatal period. These processes are not only genetically regulated but also clearly susceptible to environmental manipulation. Dietary deprivation during early life is known to have adverse effects on brain anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry, and may even lead to permanent brain damage. Although all nutrients are important for the structural development of the central nervous system, lipids such as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (22:6 n-3) and arachidonic acid (20:4 n-6), are important for normal brain development. The purpose of this literature review is to examine how early undernutrition involving a deficiency in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids can affect brain development and function and produce deficits in spatial cognitive learning ability.