Dietary docosahexaenoic acid alleviates autistic-like behaviors resulting from maternal immune activation in mice

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The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders over the last several decades has risen at an alarming rate. Factors such as broadened clinical definitions and increased parental age only partially account for this precipitous increase, suggesting that recent changes in environmental factors may also be responsible. One such factor could be the dramatic decrease in consumption of anti-inflammatory dietary omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) relative to the amount of pro-inflammatory omega-6 (n-6) PUFAs and saturated fats in the Western diet. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the principle n-3 PUFA found in neural tissue and is important for optimal brain development, especially during late gestation when DHA rapidly and preferentially accumulates in the brain. In this study, we tested whether supplementation of a low n-3 PUFA diet with DHA throughout development could improve measures related to autism in a mouse model of maternal immune activation. We found that dietary DHA protected offspring from the deleterious effects of gestational exposure to the viral mimetic polyriboinosinic-polyribocytidilic acid on behavioral measures of autism and subsequent adulthood immune system reactivity. These data suggest that elevated dietary levels of DHA, especially during pregnancy and nursing, may help protect normal neurodevelopment from the potentially adverse consequences of environmental insults like maternal infection.

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Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids

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