Scientists at the National Institutes of Health and colleagues have developed a zebrafish model that provides new insight into how the brain acquires essential omega-3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and linolenic acid (ALA).
The new findings that was published in Nature Communications have the potential to improve understanding of lipid transport across the blood-brain barrier and of disruptions in this process that can lead to birth defects or neurological conditions.
The model is also likely to enable researchers to design drug molecules that are capable of directly reaching the brain.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential because the body cannot make them and must obtain them through foods, such as fish, nuts nd seeds.
DHA levels are especially high in the brain and important for a healthy nervous system.
Infants obtain DHA from breastmilk or formula, and deficiencies of this fatty acid have been linked to problems with learning and memory.
To get to the brain, omega-3 fatty acids must pass through the blood-brain barrier via the lipid transporter Mfsd2a, which is essential for normal brain development. Despite its importance, scientists did not know precisely how Mfsd2a transports DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids.
In the study, the research team provides images of the structure of zebrafish Mfsd2a, which is similar to its human counterpart.
The findings provide key information on how Mfsd2a transports omega-3 fatty acids into the brain and may enable researchers to optimize drug delivery via this route. The study also provides foundational knowledge on how other members of this transporter family, called the major facilitator superfamily (MFS), regulate important cellular functions.
(With inputs from The OnLook News Research Bureau)