The Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and The Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, Tampa, FL 33613, USA; Division of Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620, USA.
Although a number of epidemiologic studies reported that higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids (largely associated with fish consumption) is protective against Alzheimer's disease (AD), other human studies reported no such effect. Because retrospective human studies are problematic and controlled longitudinal studies over decades are impractical, the present study utilized Alzheimer's transgenic mice (Tg) in a highly controlled study to determine whether a diet high in omega-3 fatty acid, equivalent to the 13% omega-3 fatty acid diet of Greenland Eskimos, can improve cognitive performance or protect against cognitive impairment. Amyloid precursor protein (APP)-sw+PS1 double transgenic mice, as well as nontransgenic (NT) normal littermates, were given a high omega-3 supplemented diet or a standard diet from 2 through 9 months of age, with a comprehensive behavioral test battery administered during the final 6 weeks. For both Tg and NT mice, long-term n-3 supplementation resulted in cognitive performance that was no better than that of mice fed a standard diet. In NT mice, the high omega-3 diet increased cortical levels of omega-3 fatty acids while decreasing omega-6 levels. However, the high omega-3 diet had no effect on cortical fatty acid levels in Tg mice. Irrespective of diet, no correlations existed between brain omega-3 levels and cognitive performance for individual NT or Tg mice. In contrast, brain levels of omega-6 fatty acids were strongly correlated with cognitive impairment for both genotypes. Thus, elevated brain levels of omega-3 fatty acids were not relevant to cognitive function, whereas high brain levels of omega-6 were associated with impaired cognitive function. In Tg mice, the omega-3 supplemental diet did not induce significant changes in soluble/insoluble Abeta within the hippocampus, although strong correlations were evident between hippocampal Abeta(1-40) levels and cognitive impairment. While these studies involved a genetically manipulated mouse model of AD, our results suggest that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids, or use of fish oil supplements (DHA+EPA), will not protect against AD, at least in high-risk individuals. However, normal individuals conceivably could derive cognitive benefits from high omega-3 intake if it corrects an elevation in the brain level of n-6 fatty acids as a result. Alternatively, dietary fish may contain nutrients, other than DHA and EPA, that could provide some protection against AD.