Dietary sources of lipids containing predominantly n-3 or n-6 fatty acids (FA) have been examined for effect upon several potential pathophysiologic parameters. Epidermal, plasma, and red blood cell (RBC) membrane FA composition exhibited marked differences between animals fed the respective dietary lipid sources. Reduced levels of 18:1, 20:3 and 20:4 occurred in the n-3 FA fed animals which exhibited significantly higher levels of 20:5 and 22:6. Approximately equal levels of 18:2 were present in animals fed either diet. Despite marked differences in RBC membrane FA composition, only marginal effect upon osmotic fragility occurred. Lower levels of 20:3 and 20:4 found in n-3 fed animals could result from a deficit of elongase and/or delta 5-desaturase activity. Whether lower 20:4 levels in n-3 fed animals could rate-limit eicosanoid metabolism is unknown, but epidermal capacity to metabolise arachidonic acid in these animals was found to be closely related to n-6 FA intake. Animals fed n-3 FA exhibited markedly lower levels of plasma PGE2, even when the diet was supplemented with n-6 FA. In addition, UV-radiated animals receiving the n-3 FA source demonstrated a reduced (approximately 30%) response to inflammatory stimulus and a greater (4.5-fold) delayed hypersensitivity (DH) to dinitrochlorobenzene than animals fed the n-6 FA source. These data demonstrate that dietary lipid strongly influences tissue FA composition, eicosanoid metabolism, and, in the case of DH, at least one type of T-cell mediated immune response in UV-irradiated animals.