Narendran R, Frankle WG, Mason NS, Muldoon MF, Moghaddam B. (2012) PLoS One 7(10) :e46832. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046832. Epub 2012 Oct 3.
Studies in rodents indicate that diets deficient in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) lower dopamine neurotransmission as measured by striatal vesicular monoamine transporter type 2 (VMAT2) density and amphetamine-induced dopamine release.
This suggests that dietary supplementation with fish oil might increase VMAT2 availability, enhance dopamine storage and release, and improve dopamine-dependent cognitive functions such as working memory.
To investigate this mechanism in humans, positron emission tomography (PET) was used to measure VMAT2 availability pre- and post-supplementation of n-3 PUFA in healthy individuals. Healthy young adult subjects were scanned with PET using (11)C α-dihydrotetrabenzine (DTBZ) before and after six months of n-3 PUFA supplementation (Lovaza, 2 g/day containing docosahexaenonic acid, DHA 750 mg/d and eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA 930 mg/d). In addition, subjects underwent a working memory task (n-back) and red blood cell membrane (RBC) fatty acid composition analysis pre- and post-supplementation.
RBC analysis showed a significant increase in both DHA and EPA post-supplementation. In contrast, no significant change in (11)C DTBZ binding potential (BP(ND)) in striatum and its subdivisions were observed after supplementation with n-3 PUFA.
No correlation was evident between n-3 PUFA induced change in RBC DHA or EPA levels and change in (11)C DTBZ BP(ND) in striatal subdivisions. However, pre-supplementation RBC DHA levels was predictive of baseline performance (i.e., adjusted hit rate, AHR on 3-back) on the n-back task (y=0.19+0.07, r(2)=0.55, p=0.009). In addition, subjects AHR performance improved on 3-back post-supplementation (pre 0.65±0.27, post 0.80±0.15, p=0.04). The correlation between n-back performance, and DHA levels are consistent with reports in which higher DHA levels is related to improved cognitive performance. However, the lack of change in (11)C DBTZ BP(ND) indicates that striatal VMAT2 regulation is not the mechanism of action by which n-3 PUFA improves cognitive performance.
See the news article - 'Omega-3 heightens working memory in healthy young adults' for an accessible summary of the findings from this study.