Model explaining how the brain obtains needed omega-3 fatty acids is created by researchers.

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A zebrafish model created by National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers and associates sheds new light on how the brain obtains important omega-3 fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and linolenic acid (ALA). Their research, which was published in Nature Communications, may help us understand how lipids pass the blood-brain barrier and how alterations to this process can cause neurological disorders or birth defects. Researchers may be able to create therapeutic compounds that can directly access the brain using the model.

Because the body is unable to produce omega-3 fatty acids, it must get them from food sources like fish, nuts, and seeds. This is why these nutrients are regarded as necessary. DHA concentrations are particularly high in the brain and are crucial for a sound neurological system. DHA is a fatty acid that infants get from breastmilk or formula, and deficits of it have been linked to memory and learning issues. Omega-3 fatty acids must go through the lipid transporter Mfsd2a to reach the brain, which is necessary for healthy brain development. The particular mechanism by which Mfsd2a transports DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids remains unknown, despite its significance.

The article includes illustrations of the zebrafish Mfsd2a structure, which is comparable to that of its human counterpart. For the first time, the images show precisely how fatty acids cross cell membranes. In addition, three compartments in Mfsd2a were found by the research team, suggesting discrete processes that must be taken to move and flip fatty acids via the transporter rather than along a linear tunnel or along the surface of the protein complex. The results give important details on how Mfsd2a transports omega-3 fatty acids into the brain and might help researchers improve medication delivery through this pathway. The research also offers fundamental understanding of how other members of the major facilitator superfamily (MFS), a group of transporters, control critical cellular processes.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s (NICHD) Doreen Matthies, Ph.D., and the University of California, Los Angeles’ Tamir Gonen, Ph.D., were the study’s principal investigators. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the NIH and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute contributed additional funding to the study. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) directs research and education to comprehend human development, enrich the lives of children and adolescents, promote reproductive health, and maximise talents for everyone.

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