Docosahexaenoic acid promotes oligodendrocyte differentiation via PPAR-γ signalling and prevents tumor necrosis factor-α-dependent maturational arrest

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Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid known to be neuroprotective in several models of human diseases, including multiple sclerosis. The protective effects of DHA are largely attributed to its ability to interfere with the activity of transcription factors controlling immune and inflammatory responses, including the agonist-dependent transcription factor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ (PPAR-γ). In this study, we used primary oligodendrocyte progenitor (OP) cultures from neonatal rat brain to investigate whether DHA could influence OP maturation and directly promote myelination, as previously reported for selective PPAR-γ agonists. We show that, similarly to the selective PPAR-γ agonist pioglitazone (PGZ), DHA promotes OP maturation and counteracts the maturational arrest induced by TNF-α, used to mimic inflammatory conditions. The PPAR-γ antagonist GW9662 prevented both DHA-induced OP maturation and PPAR-γ nuclear translocation, supporting the hypothesis that DHA acts through the activation of PPAR-γ. In addition, both PGZ and DHA induced the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated-kinase 1–2 (ERK1/2), in a PPAR-γ-dependent manner. ERK1/2 activity is known to regulate the transition from OPs to immature oligodendrocytes and the presence of specific inhibitors of ERK1/2 phosphorylation (U0126 or PD98059) prevented the differentiating effects of both DHA and PGZ. These results indicate that DHA might influence the process of OP maturation through its PPAR-γ agonistic activity and provide novel molecular mechanisms for the action of this dietary fatty acid, further supporting the nutritional intervention in demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1013-1023
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2017



  • Erk1/2
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Myelination
  • Nutrition
  • OL progenitors
  • PPAR-γ

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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