A study shows for the first time in mice how insufficient intake of omega 3 in the mother during pregnancy alters the development of neural networks in the young, causing memory impairment.

Omega 3 fatty acids are a family of fatty acids which includes fatty acids essential for the development and proper functioning of the body. Essential in particular for the development of the brain, these can only be provided through food: they are found in many vegetable oils (rapeseed, flax, etc.) and in the flesh of fatty fish. It is during gestation and lactation that they are incorporated in large numbers into the brains of young via maternal food. A team of researchers has been interested in the impact of maternal nutrition in these two specific periods on the brain development of young.

Indeed, scientific data had already indicated that insufficient consumption of these fatty acids by the mother during the perinatal period is a risk factor that can lead to cognitive deficits in children (language, memory, learning, etc.). But what is the responsible mechanism? Researchers from INRAE and the University of Bordeaux, in collaboration with Inserm and two Canadian universities (Laval and Toronto) and other partners are interested in a particular cell type of the brain: microglial cells (or microglia), which participate in the construction of neural memory networks. These are at the interface between neurons and the environment.

"The neural network is poorly trained"

 As their study published in “Nature Communications” explains, during brain development, microglial cells “sculpt” neural networks by “eating” unnecessary synapses (connecting links between neurons) while retaining essential ones. for proper brain function. The scientists carried out their work on mice to assess whether the maternal omega 3 food status, and therefore that of the baby's brain, had an influence on the activity of these microglia. Their results show that insufficient intake of omega 3 in the maternal diet affects the activity of the microglia in the developing brain.

Specifically, "these cells become abnormally functioning and become hyperphagic, meaning they lose their ability to recognize synapses that need to be removed and 'eat' too many synapses. The neural network is then poorly formed, which causes alterations in the memory of the little ones. “, Explain the scientists. To study more closely this link between omega 3 intake and brain development, the next step in their scientific study will consist in analyzing the content of these cells and testing the different molecules to identify those responsible for this dysfunction and then find how to restore this function.

But already, "this work in animals opens up new avenues for research and studies will continue in humans to better understand the links between omega 3 and brain development. “, Add the researchers. Not to mention that many pregnant women tend to be deficient in omega 3 foods, as the tissue reserves of the mother tend to decrease as it is used for fetal development. This is why "identifying those at risk as early as possible could be a preventive step in order to rebalance this deficiency through food. », They conclude.