BACKGROUND: Epidemiological surveys and peripheral tissue (red blood cells/plasma) fatty acid composition studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is associated with major depressive disorder (MDD) and suicide. It was hypothesized that patients with MDD would exhibit lower frontal cortical concentrations of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the principal omega-3 fatty acid in brain, relative to normal controls.

METHODS: We determined the total fatty acid composition of postmortem orbitofrontal cortex (Brodmann's Area 10) from patients with DSM-IV-defined MDD (n = 15) and age-matched normal controls (n = 27) by gas chromatography.

RESULTS: After correction for multiple comparisons, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA was the only fatty acid that was significantly different (-22%) in the postmortem orbitofrontal cortex of MDD patients relative to normal controls. Deficits in DHA concentrations were greater in female MDD patients (-32%) than in male MDD patients (-16%), and could not be wholly attributed to lifestyle factors or postmortem tissue variables.

CONCLUSIONS: These results demonstrate a selective deficit in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in the orbitofrontal cortex of patients with MDD. This finding adds to a growing body of evidence implicating omega-3 fatty acid deficiency as well as the orbitofrontal cortex in the pathophysiology and potentially pathogenesis of MDD.