, Volume 36, Issue 9, pp 1007–1024 | Cite as

Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and immunity

  • Philip C. CalderEmail author


The fatty acid composition of inflammatory and immune cells is sensitive to change according to the fatty acid composition of the diet. In particular, the proportion of different types of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in these cells is readily changed, and this provides a link between dietary PUFA intake, inflammation, and immunity. The n−6 PUFA arachidonic acid (AA) is the precursor of prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and related compounds, which have important roles in inflammation and in the regulation of immunity. Fish oil contains the n−3 PUFA eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Feeding fish oil results in partial replacement of AA in cell membranes by EPA. This leads to decreased production of AA-derived mediators. In addition, EPA is a substrate for cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase and gives rise to mediators that often have different biological actions or potencies than those formed from AA. Animal studies have shown that dietary fish oil results in altered lymphocyte function and in suppressed production of proinflammatory cytokines by macrophages. Supplementation of the diet of healthy human volunteers with fish oil-derived n−3 PUFA results in decreased monocyte and neutrophil chemotaxis and decreased production of proinflammatory cytokines. Fish oil feeding has been shown to ameliorate the symptoms of some animal models of autoimmune disease. Clinical studies have reported that fish oil supplementation has beneficial effects in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and among some asthmatics, supporting the idea that the n−3 PUFA in fish oil are antiinflammatory and immunomodulatory.


Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Eicosanoid Lymphocyte Proliferation Natural Killer Cell Activity Maternal Diet 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



araehidonic acid


α-linolenic acid




dihomo-γ-linolenic acid


docosahexaenoic acid


delayed-type hypersensitivity


eicosapentaenoic acid


hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid


human leukocyte antigen


hydroperoxyeicosatetraenoic acid


interferon; Ig, immunoglobulin




keyhole limpet hemocyanin






major histocompatibility complex


natural killer




helper T cells


tumor necrosis factor


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© AOCS Press 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Human NutritionUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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