Consumption of diets high in hydrogenated fat/trans fatty acids has been shown to have an adverse affect on lipoprotein profiles with respect to cardiovascular disease risk. Dietary fat and cholesterol play an important role in the regulation of immune and inflammatory responses shown to be involved in atherogenesis. We investigated the effects of diets containing hydrogenated fat on cellular immune response and production of inflammatory cytokines in human subjects with moderately elevated cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol >130 mg/dl). In a double blind cross-over study, 19 subjects consumed three diets, 30% of calories as fat, of which two thirds were provided as soybean oil, soybean oil-based stick margarine, or butter for 32 days, each in a randomized order. Production of proinflammatory mediators, prostaglandin (PG)E(2), interleukin (IL)-1beta, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha); delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH) response, in vitro lymphocyte proliferation, and production of IL-2 were determined. Production of IL-6 and TNF-alpha was significantly higher after consumption of stick margarine diet compared with soybean oil diet. IL-1beta and TNF-alpha production correlated positively with ratios of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol (r = 0.499, P < 0.001 and r = 0.291, P = 0.04, respectively). There was no significant difference in DTH response, lymphocyte proliferation, or levels of IL-2 and PGE(2) produced among three groups. Our results indicate that consumption of a diet high in hydrogenated fat does not adversely affect cellular immunity but increases production of inflammatory cytokines that have been associated with the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis.