Delayed spatial alternation impairments in adult rats following dietary n - 6 deficiency during development

Cindy S. Roegge, John J. Widholm, Nicki J. Engeseth, Xiaohong Wang, Karl O. Brosch, Richard F. Seegal, Susan L. Schantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dietary n - 3 fatty acid (FA) deficiencies during development can cause learning and memory impairments, but the functional effects of dietary n - 6 FA deficiencies, reflected in a lowered n - 6 / n - 3 ratio, are less clear. We investigated the effects of maternal diets containing fish oils, resulting in lowered n - 6 / n - 3 ratios, on a spatial working memory task in their offspring. Starting on gestational day 6, Sprague-Dawley timed-pregnant rats were placed on one of three experimental diets: control (unadulterated powdered rat chow), Pacific Ocean (PO) fish (powdered rat chow containing 20% (w/w) lyophilized PO salmon), or PO oil (powdered rat chow containing 6% (w/w) oil extracted from PO salmon). The 6% oil dose was selected because it is equivalent to the amount of oil in the 20% lyophilized fish diet. The experimental diets were fed until weaning on postnatal day (PND) 21, at which time all pups were placed on the rat chow diet. Starting on approximately PND77, one male and one female from each litter began a cognitive test battery using 2-lever operant chambers. PO groups failed to reach the same level of performance as the controls on the delayed spatial alternation (DSA) task and also showed decreased performance on delay trials. FA analyses of the diets found that the n - 6 / n - 3 ratios for the PO fish and oil groups were reduced to 2.5 and 3.2, respectively, vs. 6.9 for controls. Analysis of brain tissue taken from pups on PND21 confirmed that the n - 6 / n - 3 ratios within the brain were significantly reduced from 1.18 for controls to 0.87 and 0.90 for PO fish and oil groups, respectively. Specifically, the PO diets significantly increased long-chain n - 3 FAs (20: 5 n - 3 and 22: 6 n - 3) and decreased long-chain n - 6 FAs (20: 4 n - 6 and 22: 4 n - 6) in the brain. Thus, the observed delayed spatial alternation impairments in rats fed PO fish and fish oil are hypothesized to have resulted from the altered n - 6 / n - 3 FA ratios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-495
Number of pages11
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2005


  • Delayed spatial alternation (DSA)
  • Fatty acid imbalance
  • Fatty acids (FA)
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Rats
  • n - 6 deficiency
  • n - 6/n - 3 ratio

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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