Brain development is a sequential anatomical process characterised by specific well-defined stages of growth and maturation. One of the fundamental and necessary events in the normal development of the central nervous system in vertebrates is the formation of a myelin sheath. It is becoming more evident that this process is influenced by dietary lipids. A number of findings have indicated that the administration of a diet deficient in essential fatty acids during development causes hypomyelination in the rat brain. Our studies have shown that lipids can also play a role in accelerating myelinogenesis in the brain of rats whose mothers had been fed, during pregnancy and lactation, a lipid fraction extracted from yeast grown on n-alkanes. Further studies have shown that accelerated myelinogenesis is connected to a precocious appearance of behavioural reflexes. Thus, the use of particular lipids in human nutrition must be carefully screened for possible effects on brain development.
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