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White laboratory rat. © INRA, FLANZY Paul

Omega 3 and managing stress - ever closer links

The relationship between the consumption of Omega 3 and adaption to stress or anxiety is becoming clearer. Already in 2011, a team of research scientists from INRA and INSERM had demonstrated in rodents that a low consumption of Omega 3 in mice increased their stress levels (1). This phenomenon may be linked with changes to the brain's ability to produce endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids), cerebral lipids that control synaptic memory.  To better understand the links between anxiety and endocannabinoid-mediated synaptic plasticity, the research team pursued its experiments by testing different models of behavioural stress in rodents.  Their work, which reveals that endocannabinoid-mediated plasticity in the nucleus accumbens forms the neurobiological substrate for anxiety, is the subject of an article published on 21 July in Cell Reports.

Updated on 07/28/2016
Published on 07/22/2016
Keywords: OMEGA 3 - STRESS - brain

Mice are not equal when faced with stress. This observation has been made by an INRA-INSERM research team which, after subjecting rodents to chronic stress and measuring their emotional symptoms using a battery of behavioural tests (isolation, a maze or an anxiety-generating environment) noted that certain animals were naturally resilient, or in other words they were able to resist stress better than others.  The scientists also highlighted the fact that this ability may be due to a greater plasticity of neurons in the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that is involved in regulating emotions and stress where endocannabinoids are major actors in memory at the synaptic level.

To verify this relationship, the mice that displayed anxious symptoms received treatment to stimulate the production of endocannabinoids in the nucleus accumbens. The scientists observed a limitation of anxiety in these mice.  These findings evidence for the first time the direct relationship between the production of endocannabinoids in the nucleus accumbens and the development of anxiety disorders in a context of chronic stress.

A threshold has thus been crossed in revealing the neurobiological substrate involved in the adaptation to stress and anxiety that develops in certain individuals when faced with chronic stress.  These findings therefore support the observations made by the scientists in 2011 when they discovered that a dietary deficiency in omega 3, which modulates the production of endocannabinoids, mirrored the behavioural and neurobiological effects of stress.

These results therefore offer new options for the development of pharmacological and nutritional strategies to manage stress and anxiety.

(1) “Nutritional Omega 3 deficiency abolishes endocannabinoid mediated neuronal functions”, Nature Neuroscience, 30 January 2011

Scientific contact(s):

  • Sophie Layé (33 (0)5 57 57 92 18) INRA-Université de Bordeaux Joint Research Unit for Nutrition and Integrative Neurobiology (NutriNeuro)
  • Olivier Manzoni INSERM-Aix-Marseille Université Mediterranean Neurobiology Institute (U 901)
Press Relations:
INRA News Office (33 (0)1 42 75 91 86)


Clémentine Bosch-Bouju, Thomas Larrieu, Louisa Linders, Olivier J Manzoni et Sophie Layé (2016) Endocannabinoid-mediated plasticity in the nucleus accumbens controls vulnerability to anxiety after social defeat stress, Cell Reports, DOI:10.1016/j.celrep.2016.06.082