The Journal of Membrane Biology

, Volume 206, Issue 2, pp 103-116

First online:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the Regulation of Expression of Endothelial Pro-Atherogenic and Pro-Inflammatory Genes

  • R. De CaterinaAffiliated withChair of Cardiology, “G. d’Annunzio” University, Chieti, and C.N.R. Institute of Clinical Physiology Email author 
  • , M. MassaroAffiliated withChair of Cardiology, “G. d’Annunzio” University, Chieti, and C.N.R. Institute of Clinical Physiology

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By partially replacing the corresponding omega-6 analogues in membrane phospholipids, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease the transcriptional activation of genes — e.g., adhesion molecules, chemoattractants, inflammatory cytokines — involved in endothelial activation in response to inflammatory and pro-atherogenic stimuli. This regulation occurs, at least in part, through a decreased activation of the nuclear factor-κB system of transcription factors, secondary to decreased generation of intracellular hydrogen peroxide. Such regulation by omega-3 fatty acids is likely linked to the presence of a higher number of double bonds in the fatty acid chain in omega-3 compared with omega-6 fatty acids. By similar mechanisms, omega-3 fatty acids have been recently shown to reduce gene expression of cyclooxygenase-2, an inflammatory gene involved, through the activation of some metalloproteinases, in plaque angiogenesis and plaque rupture. The quenching of gene expression of pro-inflammatory pro-atherogenic genes by omega-3 fatty acids has consequences on the extent of leukocyte adhesion to vascular endothelium, early atherogenesis and later stages of plaque development and plaque rupture, ultimately yielding a plausible comprehensive explanation for the vasculoprotective effects of these nutrients.


Omega-3 fatty acids n-3 fatty acids Adhesion molecules Endothelium Endothelial activation Leukocyte adhesion Monocytes Atherosclerosis Cytokines Cyclooxygenase-2 Matrix metalloproteinases Plaque rupture