BACKGROUND: Impulsive violence, suicide, and depression are strongly associated with low concentrations of cerebrospinal fluid 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (CSF 5-HIAA). Increased suicide and trauma reported in some cholesterol-lowering trials may be related to altered concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than cholesterol, a possible surrogate marker.

METHODS: CSF 5-HIAA and homovanillic acid (HVA), total cholesterol, and plasma fatty acid concentrations were examined in 176 subjects, including 49 healthy volunteers, and 88 early- and 39 late-onset alcoholics.

RESULTS: Among each group, polyunsaturated fatty acids predicted both CSF 5-HIAA and CSF HVA concentrations, but total cholesterol was unrelated to either neurotransmitter metabolite. The relationships between plasma 22: 6n3 and CSF 5-HIAA were significantly different when healthy volunteers (r = .35) were compared to early-onset alcoholics (r = -.38) (p < .0002).

CONCLUSIONS: Dietary studies are indicated to determine if essential fatty acid supplementation can influence central nervous system serotonin and dopamine metabolism and modify impulsive behaviors related to these neurotransmitters.