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Lack of fishy fatties foils fetal brain growth

New research using nifty see-through tadpoles shows how a deficiency of a DHA precursor affects early brain development.

Forget playing Beethoven and “Baby Einstein” CDs to your pregnant belly. What fetuses really need is enough fishy fatty acid to ensure healthy brain development, according to a new study.

A team of scientists at University of California, Irvine, led by Susana Cohen-Cory, professor of neurobioloby and behavior, identified for the first time how deficits of a precursory of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, cause molecular changes in the developing brain that result in constrained growth of neurons and the synapses that connect them. DHA plays a key role in creating a healthy central nervous system. During the study, the researchers were able to see how brain tissue without enough DHA fostered poorly developed neurons and limited numbers of synapses, the vital conduits that allow neurons to communicate with each other, according to a university release.

How could the researchers see this? They used African clawed frogs, whose embryos develop outside the mother and are translucent. Check out this cool pic of a tadpole.

They could also see what happened to the tadpoles when their mothers’ DHA levels returned to normal.

“When we changed the diets of DHA-deficient mothers to include a proper level of this dietary fatty acid, neuronal and synaptic growth flourished and returned to normal in the following generation of tadpoles,” Cohen-Cory said in the release.

The research appears in the Journal of Neuroscience and was noted on A recent Canadian study found that the majority of pregnant women aren’t getting the recommended dose of omega-3s.


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