Biochemistry and physiology of n-3 fatty acids

FASEB J. 1992 May;6(8):2530-6. doi: 10.1096/fasebj.6.8.1592205.


Considering the n-3 fatty acids to be partial agonists relative to n-6 fatty acids helps consolidate into a unified interpretation the many diverse reports and controversies on the actions of these two types of essential fatty acids. Some research reports illustrate the similarities between these two types and some emphasize the differences, leaving readers to evaluate the status of n-3 fatty acids from a viewpoint that is conceptually similar to regarding a glass of water as half empty or half full. Both n-3 and n-6 types of fatty acids must be obtained through the diet because they are not synthesized de novo by vertebrates. Both types can support important physiological and developmental processes, can form eicosanoids (prostaglandins, leukotrienes, lipoxins, etc.), can be esterified to and hydrolyzed from tissue glycerolipids, and can be metabolically elongated and desaturated to a variety of highly unsaturated fatty acids. However, some nonesterified n-6 acids are vigorously converted to potent n-6 eicosanoids that exert intense agonist actions at eicosanoid receptors, whereas the n-3 acids less vigorously form n-3 eicosanoids that often produce less intense (partial) actions. Because both types owe their presence in vertebrate tissues to dietary intake, important physiological consequences follow the inadvertent selection of different average daily dietary supplies of these two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eicosanoids / metabolism
  • Eicosanoids / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological


  • Eicosanoids
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3