Increasing evidence suggests that docosahexaenoic acid [DHA, 22:6(n-3)], the principal (n-3) fatty acid in brain gray matter, has neurotrophic and neuroprotective properties. Preliminary clinical evidence also suggests that the perinatal accrual, and the subsequent dietary maintenance of, cortical DHA is positively associated with cortical gray matter volumes.

The pathophysiology of recurrent affective disorders, including unipolar and bipolar depression, is associated with (n-3) fatty acid deficiency, DHA deficits, impaired astrocyte mediated vascular coupling, neuronal shrinkage, and reductions in gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

Preclinical studies have also observed neuronal shrinkage and indices of astrocyte pathology in the DHA-deficient rat brain. Together, this body of evidence supports the proposition that DHA deficiency increases vulnerability to neuronal atrophy in the PFC of patients with affective disorders.

Because projections from the PFC modulate multiple limbic structures involved in affective regulation, this represents one plausible mechanism by which (n-3) fatty acid deficiency may increase vulnerability to recurrent affective disorders.