European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 183–191 | Cite as

Polyunsaturated fatty acids support epithelial barrier integrity and reduce IL-4 mediated permeability in vitro

  • Linette E. M. WillemsenEmail author
  • Marleen A. Koetsier
  • Martin Balvers
  • Christopher Beermann
  • Bernd Stahl
  • Eric A. F. van Tol



The intestinal mucosa functions as a barrier against harmful dietary and microbial antigens. An intact gut barrier forms a prerequisite for protection against infection and allergy. Both allergic and inflammatory mediators (e.g. IL-4, IFN-γ) are known to compromise the epithelial barrier integrity by enhancing permeability. Breast milk provides protection against infection and allergy and contains polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).

Aim of the study

Although PUFA are commonly used in infant formulas their effect on intestinal barrier is still poorly understood. Therefore the effects of distinct PUFA (n-6: LA, GLA, DGLA, AA; n-3: ALA, EPA, DHA) and a fat blend with PUFA composition similar to that of the human breast milk fat fraction, on barrier integrity were investigated.


Human intestinal epithelial cells (T84) were pre-incubated with individual PUFA or a lipase treated fat blend, with or without subsequent IL-4 exposure. Barrier integrity was evaluated by measuring transepithelial resistance and permeability. Membrane phospholipid composition was determined by capillary gas chromatography.


DGLA, AA, EPA, DHA and to a lesser extend GLA enhanced basal TER and strongly reduced IL-4 mediated permeability, while LA and ALA were ineffective. Furthermore, the lipase treated fat blend effectively supported barrier function. PUFA were incorporated in the membrane phospholipid fraction of T84 cells.


Long chain PUFA DGLA, AA, EPA and DHA were particularly effective in supporting barrier integrity by improving resistance and reducing IL-4 mediated permeability. Fat blends that release specific PUFA upon digestion in the gastrointestinal tract may support natural resistance.


permeability IL-4 polyunsaturated fatty acids arachidonic acid (AA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) 



4 kDa FITC-dextran




(Long chain-)polyunsaturated fatty acids


Transepithelial resistance


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Copyright information

© Spinger 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linette E. M. Willemsen
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Marleen A. Koetsier
    • 1
  • Martin Balvers
    • 1
  • Christopher Beermann
    • 3
  • Bernd Stahl
    • 3
  • Eric A. F. van Tol
    • 1
  1. 1.Danone ResearchCentre for Specialised NutritionWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Pharmacology and Pathophysiology Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical SciencesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Danone ResearchCentre for Specialised NutritionFriedrichsdorfGermany

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