Membrane Fatty Acid Metabolism and Schizophrenia



W.S. Fenton*,

J.R. Hibbeln, M. Knable. Stanley Treatment Center Program,

Rockville, MD

Objective: Recent research

suggests that deficient uptake an/or excessive breakdown of

membrane phospholipids and depletion of omega-3 fatty acid may be

associated with schizophrenia. We review available clinical

research on abnormalities in membrane fatty acid composition and

metabolism in schizophrenia, and therapeutic trials of fatty acid

in this disorder.

Methods: All potentially

relevant English-language articles were identified from the

medical and psychiatric literature with the aid of computer

searches using key words such as lipid, phospholipids,

prostaglandins and schizophrenia. All studies identified

including human subjects are included for review.

Results: Empirical studies

related to membrane hypotheses of schizophrenia have focused on

five broad areas: (1) assessment of prostaglandins (PG) and their

essential fatty acid (EFA) precursors in the serum and red blood

cell membrane of patients with schizophrenia; 2) evaluation of

the niacin flush test as a possible diagnostic marker for

schizophrenia; 3) evaluation of phospholipase enzyme activity in

schizophrenia; NMR spectoscopy studies of brain phospholipid

metabolism in schizophrenia; 5) therapeutic trials of PG

precursors for the treatment of schizophrenia. Results in the

areas of RBC membrane abnormalities, NMR spectroscopy and omega-3

supplementation trials, while preliminary, have been most


Conclusions: The role of

essential fatty acid metabolism in the diagnosis and treatment of

schizophrenia remains speculative, but its investigation has

proved fruitful for generating and testing novel etiologic

hypotheses and new therapeutic agents.