Brain is an organ with the highest lipid concentration in the body. Cellular membrane lipids can affect both the positioning and the functioning of membrane proteins, thus regulating several cell actions. Changes in the lipid composition of cell membrane can modulate the microenvironment and consequently the function of its proteins, e.g. neurotransmission. Some of the first studies on the subject have shown a negative correlation between serum cholesterol levels and depression, suicidality and behavioral disorders. Several studies –but not all– have found decreased concentrations of ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω-3-PUFA) in plasma or erythrocyte membranes of patients with depression, bipolar disorder or after a suicide attempt. In some cases, positive results after their administration have been reported. The effect of ω-3-PUFA in affective disorders is attributed to their action on neurotransmission, neuroplasticity as well as to their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties. Besides, decreased levels of ω-3-PUFA have been found in erythrocytes or platelets of schizophrenic patients. Some studies have shown in schizophrenics an increased rate of membrane phospholipids breakdown and a decreased ratio of ω-3-PUFA incorporation in phospholipids, possibly because of increased activity of phospholipase A2, an enzyme with crucial role in signaling transduction. Deficient dietetic ingestion of ω-3-PUFA may increase the risk for development of schizophrenia, while a diet rich in ω-3-PUFA may have a preventive role for the disease or improve its course. Although there is no evidence for their action as a monotherapy, they may be useful as an add-on therapy to drug treatment. Some authors suggest that abnormal sphingolipid metabolism, leading to accumulation of ceramides, may be responsible for the development of mood and anxiety disorders, as well as for induction of inflammation or oxidative stress, mechanisms possibly responsible for the physical symptoms of depression. Some drugs seem to combine inhibition of sphingomyelinase (an enzyme catalyzing the production of ceramides) and antidepressant effect. Despite the multitude of related studies, many aspects of the subject remain obscure. Current research focuses on the validity of preventive (especially in the perinatal period) or therapeutic administration of ω-3-PUFA as well as to the pharmacological manipulation of enzymes involved in lipid metabolism (e.g. sphingomyelinase) for the treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Key words: Affective disorders, anxiety disordes, schizophrenia, cholesterol, ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, ceramides.

St. Theodoropoulou, A.G. Gialouris (page 129)


Full Article in pdf (Greek)