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The role of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing glucocorticoid-induced reduction in human hippocampal neurogenesis and increase in apoptosis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number219
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
Accepted/In press15 Jun 2020
Published1 Dec 2020


  • Borsini et al., 2020

    Borsini_et_al._2020.pdf, 6.93 MB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:16 Jul 2020

    Version:Accepted author manuscript

    Licence:CC BY

King's Authors


Glucocorticoids have been suggested to be involved in several neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression. One of the possible mechanisms through which glucocorticoids contribute to the development of the depressive symptomatology is via regulation of distinct neurogenic mechanisms in the brain. A preventive or protective approach for these patients might be the use of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are known for they neuroprotective properties. We used the human hippocampal progenitor cell line HPC0A07/03C and pre-treated cells with either EPA or DHA, followed by treatment with the glucocorticoid cortisol either alone, or in co-treatment with the same n-3 PUFA during subsequent 3 days of proliferation and 7 days of differentiation. During proliferation, both EPA and DHA were able to prevent cortisol-induced reduction in proliferation and increase in apoptosis, when used in pre-treatment, and both pre- and co-treatment. During differentiation, EPA was able to prevent cortisol-induced reduction in neurogenesis and increase in apoptosis, when used in pre-treatment, and both pre- and co-treatment only during the proliferation stage; however, DHA required continuous treatment also during the differentiation stage to prevent cortisol-induced reduction in neurogenesis. Using transcriptomic analyses, we showed that both EPA and DHA regulated pathways involved in oxidative stress and immune response [e.g., nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2), Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), Interferon (IFN) and Interleukin (IL)-1 signaling], whereas DHA also regulated pathways involved in cell development and neuronal formation [e.g., cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB) signaling]. We provide the first evidence for treatment with both EPA and DHA to prevent cortisol-induced reduction in human hippocampal neurogenesis, and identify novel molecular mechanisms underlying these effects.

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