Background. Lower serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids have been reported in unipolar and bipolar depressed patients. Changes in cholesterol and fatty acids have been suggested to affect membrane viscosity and consequently serotonergic neurotransmitter expression.
The goal of this study was to investigate whether lower baseline cholesterol and increased omega-6 and lower omega-3 fatty acids are present in healthy first-degree relatives of bipolar patients compared with controls and whether these changes were associated with neuroendocrine responses to an i.v. tryptophan challenge or mood.
Method. Baseline cholesterol, fatty acids and mood were determined in healthy first-degree relatives of patients with bipolar disorders (N=30) and healthy matched controls (N=15) (parallel-group design). Prolactin and cortisol were measured following tryptophan infusion.
Results. First-degree relatives showed significantly lower plasma high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increased total omega-6 fatty acids in phospholipids. Lower total omega-3 and higher total omega-6 fatty acids in phospholipids were positively correlated with peak prolactin response to tryptophan. Lower total omega-3 fatty acids in phospholipids and cholesteryl esters were associated with lower mood.
Conclusions. Abnormalities of lower plasma high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increased total omega-6 fatty acids in phospholipids in these subjects are in agreement with findings in bipolar and major depressed patients. Changes in fatty acids show an association with central serotonergic parameters. It is suggested that these abnormalities in cholesterol and fatty acids may constitute a trait marker for bipolar disorders.