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Open Access Research

Providing male rats deficient in iron and n-3 fatty acids with iron and alpha-linolenic acid alone affects brain serotonin and cognition differently from combined provision

Jeannine Baumgartner12*, Cornelius M Smuts1 and Michael B Zimmermann2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre of Excellence for Nutrition, North-West University, Private Bag X6001, 2520 Potchefstroom, South Africa

2 Laboratory of Human Nutrition, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

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Lipids in Health and Disease 2014, 13:97  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-13-97

Published: 13 June 2014

Abstract

Background

We recently showed that a combined deficiency of iron (ID) and n-3 fatty acids (n-3 FAD) in rats disrupts brain monoamine metabolism and produces greater memory deficits than ID or n-3 FAD alone. Providing these double-deficient rats with either iron (Fe) or preformed docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)/eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) alone affected brain monoamine pathways differently from combined repletion and even exacerbated cognitive deficits associated with double-deficiency. Iron is a co-factor of the enzymes responsible for the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to EPA and DHA, thus, the provision of ALA with Fe might be more effective in restoring brain EPA and DHA and improving cognition in double-deficient rats than ALA alone.

Methods

In this study we examined whether providing double-deficient rats with ALA and Fe, alone or in combination, can correct deficits in monoamine metabolism and cognition associated with double-deficiency. Using a 2 × 2 design, male rats with concurrent ID and n-3 FAD were fed an Fe + ALA, Fe + n-3 FAD, ID + ALA, or ID + n-3 FAD diet for 5 weeks (postnatal day 56–91). Biochemical measures, and spatial working and reference memory (using the Morris water maze) were compared to age-matched controls.

Results

In the hippocampus, we found a significant Fe × ALA interaction on DHA: Compared to the group receiving ALA alone, DHA was significantly higher in the Fe + ALA group. In the brain, we found significant antagonistic Fe × ALA interactions on serotonin concentrations. Provision of ALA alone impaired working memory compared with age-matched controls, while in the reference memory task ALA provided with Fe significantly improved performance.

Conclusion

These results indicate that providing either iron or ALA alone to double-deficient rats affects serotonin pathways and cognitive performance differently from combined provision. This may be partly explained by the enhancing effect of Fe on the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.

Keywords:
Alpha-linolenic acid; Cognition; Iron; Monoamines; n-3 fatty acids