The objective of this investigation was to determine the influence of flaxseed oil on responses representative of primary humoral and cell-mediated adaptive immune competence in immunosenescent mice. Male and female C57BL/6J mice, 85 weeks old, were randomized between two complete purified diets differing only in oil source (cold-pressed safflower or flaxseed). After 8 weeks, humoral competence was assessed in six mice per group as the serum haemagglutinin titre to sheep red blood cells (SRBC) and cell-mediated competence was assessed, in an additional six mice per group, as the delayed hypersensitivity response to SRBC. A zero-time control group (88 weeks old) and a young adult positive control group (12 weeks old) were each tested similarly (six per immune response), revealing age-related depression in both antibody and cell-mediated competence at 88 weeks of age. After the 8-week experimental period, the antibody response of the two test groups of geriatric mice remained below the young adult level (P=0.04) and the cell-mediated response of the safflower oil group also continued to exhibit age-related depression (20 % of young adult level, P=0.0002). By contrast, the anti-SRBC delayed hypersensitivity response of the flaxseed group no longer differed from the response of the young adults but exceeded that of the safflower and zero-time control senescent groups (P=0.0002). Depression in primary cell-mediated competence, the most outstanding aspect of immunosenescence, can be addressed by means of a dietary source of 18 : 3n-3 without longer-chain PUFA.