Changes in PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) metabolism can cause mental retardation and cognitive impairment. However, it is still unclear why altered levels of PUFAs result in neuronal dysfunction. Recent studies on the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans suggest that PUFA depletion may cause cognitive impairment by compromising communication among neurons. Pharmacological and electrophysiological experiments showed that animals devoid of most PUFAs release abnormally low levels of neurotransmitters. In addition, ultrastructural analysis revealed that synapses in these mutants are severely depleted of synaptic vesicles. The conclusion of these studies is that PUFAs are required to maintain a normal pool of synaptic vesicles at pre-synaptic sites, thus ensuring efficient neurotransmission.

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