Docosahexaenoic acid decreased neuroinflammation in rat pups after controlled cortical impact

Michelle E. Schober, Daniela F. Requena, T. Charles Casper, A. K. Velhorst, Alyssa Lolofie, Katelyn E. McFarlane, Taylor E. Otto, Cynthia Terry, John C. Gensel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of acquired neurologic disability in children, yet specific therapies to treat TBI are lacking. Therapies that decrease the inflammatory response and enhance a reparative immune action may decrease oxidative damage and improve outcomes after TBI. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) modulates the immune response to injury in many organs. DHA given in the diet before injury decreased rat pup cognitive impairment, oxidative stress and white matter injury in our developmental TBI model using controlled cortical impact (CCI). Little is known about DHA effects on neuroinflammation in the developing brain. Further, it is not known if DHA given after developmental TBI exerts neuroprotective effects. We hypothesized that acute DHA treatment would decrease oxidative stress and improve cognitive outcome, associated with decreased pro-inflammatory activation of microglia, the brain's resident macrophages. Methods: 17-day-old rat pups received intraperitoneal DHA or vehicle after CCI or SHAM surgery followed by DHA diet or continuation of REG diet to create DHACCI, REGCCI, SHAMDHA and SHAMREG groups. We measured brain nitrates/nitrites (NOx) at post injury day (PID) 1 to assess oxidative stress. We tested memory using Novel Object Recognition (NOR) at PID14. At PID 3 and 7, we measured reactivity of microglial activation markers Iba1, CD68 and CD206 and astrocyte marker GFAP in the injured cortex. At PID3, 7 and 30 we measured mRNA levels of inflammation-related genes and transcription factors in flow-sorted brain cells. Results: DHA decreased oxidative stress at PID1 and pro-inflammatory microglial activation at PID3. CCI increased mRNA levels of two interferon regulatory family transcription factors, blunted by DHA, particularly in microglia-enriched cell populations at PID7. CCI increased mRNA levels of genes associated with “pro- “ and “anti-“ inflammatory activity at PID3, 7 and 30. Most notably within the microglia-enriched population, DHA blunted increased mRNA levels of pro-inflammatory genes at PID 3 and 7 and of anti-inflammatory genes at PID 30. Particularly in microglia, we observed parallel activation of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory genes. DHA improved performance on NOR at PID14 after CCI. Conclusions: DHA decreased oxidative stress and histologic and mRNA markers of microglial pro-inflammatory activation in rat pup brain acutely after CCI associated with improved short term cognitive function. DHA administration after CCI has neuroprotective effects, which may result in part from modulation of microglial activation toward a less inflammatory profile in the first week after CCI. Future and ongoing studies will focus on phagocytic function and reactive oxygen species production in microglia and macrophages to test functional effects of DHA on neuroinflammation in our model. Given its favorable safety profile in children, DHA is a promising candidate therapy for pediatric TBI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112971
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the NINDS Grant number 5R21 NS090098-02 , National Institutes of Health and by Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at the University of Utah.

Funding Information:
Research reported in this publication utilized the University of Utah Flow Cytometry Facility through Award Number 5P30CA042014-24 supported by the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1S10RR026802-01 .

Funding Information:
Research reported in this publication utilized the Biorepository and Molecular Pathology Shared Resource at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P30CA042014 . The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.”

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Inc.


  • Controlled cortical impact
  • Developing brain
  • Docosahexaenoic acid
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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