In a previously reported double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) as supplemental treatment in 40 patients with schizophrenia, we found significant improvement in symptoms as measured by the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) compared to placebo (Emsley et al. 2002).

Here we report changes in fatty acid composition of erythrocyte membranes in the same sample (n = 16 in each group). After 12 weeks of receiving EPA, levels of several saturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids decreased significantly while levels of n-3 fatty acids increased significantly compared to the placebo group. Increases of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids in the erythrocyte membranes were greater in subjects who improved more than 20% on overall symptoms.

Changes in fatty acids correlated significantly with improvement in PANSS sub-scale scores, more so in females than in males. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (22:6n-3) levels increased less than expected, suggesting a possible defect in synthesis or incorporation of DHA into membranes in schizophrenia.

Improvement in dyskinesia correlated significantly with an increase in alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3; p = 0.03), and a decrease in 20:1n-9 (p = 0.005).