Effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on cognitive functions and neural substrates: A voxel-based morphometry study in aged mice

Debora Cutuli, Marco Pagani, Paola Caporali, Alberto Galbusera, Daniela Laricchiuta, Francesca Foti, Cristina Neri, Gianfranco Spalletta, Carlo Caltagirone, Laura Petrosini, Alessandro Gozzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human and experimental studies have revealed putative neuroprotective and pro-cognitive effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) in aging, evidencing positive correlations between peripheral n-3 PUFA levels and regional grey matter (GM) volume, as well as negative correlations between dietary n-3 PUFA levels and cognitive deficits. We recently showed that n-3 PUFA supplemented aged mice exhibit better hippocampal-dependent mnesic functions, along with enhanced cellular plasticity and reduced neurodegeneration, thus supporting a role of n-3 PUFA supplementation in preventing cognitive decline during aging. To corroborate these initial results and develop new evidence on the effects of n-3 PUFA supplementation on brain substrates at macro-scale level, here we expanded behavioral analyses to the emotional domain (anxiety and coping skills), and carried out a fine-grained regional GM volumetric mapping by using high-resolution MRI-based voxel-based morphometry. The behavioral effects of 8 week n-3 PUFA supplementation were measured on cognitive (discriminative, spatial and social) and emotional (anxiety and coping) abilities of aged (19 month-old at the onset of study) C57B6/J mice. n-3 PUFA supplemented mice showed better mnesic performances as well as increased active coping skills. Importantly, these effects were associated with enlarged regional hippocampal, retrosplenial and prefrontal GM volumes, and with increased post mortem n-3 PUFA brain levels. These findings indicate that increased dietary n-3 PUFA intake in normal aging can improve fronto-hippocampal GM structure and function, an effect present also when the supplementation starts at late age. Our data are consistent with a protective role of n-3 PUFA supplementation in counteracting cognitive decline, emotional dysfunctions and brain atrophy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38
JournalFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - Mar 4 2016


  • Aging
  • Cognitive decline
  • Dietary supplementation
  • MRI
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Voxel-based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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