Understanding the nature of environmental factors that contribute to behavioral health is critical for successful prevention strategies in individuals at risk for psychiatric disorders. These factors are typically experiential in nature, such as stress and urbanicity, but nutrition--in particular dietary deficiency of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs)-has increasingly been implicated in the symptomatic onset of schizophrenia and mood disorders, which typically occurs during adolescence to early adulthood. Thus, adolescence might be the critical age range for the negative impact of diet as an environmental insult.
A rat model involving consecutive generations of n-3 PUFA deficiency was developed on the basis of the assumption that dietary trends toward decreased consumption of these fats began 4-5 decades ago when the parents of current adolescents were born. Behavioral performance in a wide range of tasks as well as markers of dopamine-related neurotransmission was compared in adolescents and adults fed n-3 PUFA adequate and deficient diets.
In adolescents, dietary n-3 PUFA deficiency across consecutive generations produced a modality-selective and task-dependent impairment in cognitive and motivated behavior distinct from the deficits observed in adults. Although this dietary deficiency affected expression of dopamine-related proteins in both age groups in adolescents but not adults, there was an increase in tyrosine hydroxylase expression that was selective to the dorsal striatum.
These data support a nutritional contribution to optimal cognitive and affective functioning in adolescents. Furthermore, they suggest that n-3 PUFA deficiency disrupts adolescent behaviors through enhanced dorsal striatal dopamine availability.