Protective effects of ω-3 PUFAs to prevent vascular dementia

Researchers from the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences (ICMS), the University of Macau (UM), have discovered the protective effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω-3 PUFAs), which can reduce microinfarct burdens, improve cognitive deficits, and prevent vascular dementia. The study was recently published in EBioMedicine supported by Cell Press and The Lancet.

Accumulating evidence suggests that microinfarcts present in aging brains are closely associated with dementia. Microinfarcts are presumed to result from a variety of small cerebral vessel diseases, such as vessel lumen occlusion, arteriosclerosis, and vascular wall inflammation. A research team from the ICMS has been working on a project that aims to find useful natural products to prevent or treat small cerebral vessel diseases and vascular dementia. Omega-3 PUFAs serve as an important structural component to maintain cellular functional integrity. They are essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesised in mammals, and must be acquired from the diet. ‘The modern diet consists of low levels of ω-3 PUFAs,’ says Dr Su Huanxing. ‘Many epidemiological studies have displayed an inverse relationship between ω-3 PUFA intake and the risk of cognitive decline and vascular dementia.’

Titled ‘Enriched Brain Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Confer Neuroprotection against Microinfarction’, the journal article was co-authored by Luo Chuanming, Ren Huixia, Yao Xiaoli, Zhe Shi, Liang Fengyin, Jing X Kang, Wan Jian-Bo, Zhong Pei, Su Kuan-Pin, and Su Huanxing. In the study, Luo Chuanming established a single microinfarct model using focused femtosecond laser pulses to occlude a cortical penetrating arteriole, while Ren Huixia performed the multiple diffuse microinfarcts model using unilateral injection of cholesterol crystals through the internal carotid artery. Both of them are the co-first authors of the paper. The protective effects of ω-3 PUFAs against microinfarcts were verified in these two microinfarcts models, where ω-3 PUFAs significantly attenuated cell apoptosis, alleviated the diffuse microinfarct burdens, and remarkably improved the functional deficits. With the growing health burden of dementia in the aged population worldwide, it is urgently important to understand the etiology, pathophysiological alterations and functional consequences of cerebral microinfarcts, as well as to develop effective and safe approaches for the treatment and prevention against the development of microinfarcts. ‘Targeting microinfarcts could be an effective strategy for ameliorating cognitive decline and dementia,’ says Prof Su Huanxing. ‘The beneficial effects of ω-3 PUFAs found in these animal studies support the conduction of future clinical trials of ω-3 PUFAs in the treatment or prophylaxis of vascular dementia.’