Immunomodulation by omega-3 fatty acids

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2007 Nov-Dec;77(5-6):327-35. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2007.10.015. Epub 2007 Nov 26.


The immune system, including its inflammatory components, is fundamental to host defense against pathogenic invaders. It is a complex system involving interactions amongst many different cell types dispersed throughout the body. Central to its actions are phagocytosis, processing of antigens derived from intracellular and extracellular pathogens, activation of T cells with proliferation and production of cytokines that elicit effector cell functions such as antibody production and killing cell activity. Inappropriate immunologic activity, including inflammation, is a characteristic of many common human disorders. Eicosanoids produced from arachidonic acid have roles in inflammation and regulation of T and B lymphocyte functions. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) also gives rise to eicosanoids and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to docosanoids; these may have differing properties to arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoids. EPA and DHA give rise to newly discovered resolvins. Human immune cells are typically rich in arachidonic acid, but arachidonic acid, EPA and DHA contents can be altered through oral administration of those fatty acids. This results in a change pattern of production of eicosanoids and probably also of docosanoids and resolvins, although the latter are not well examined in the human context. Changing the fatty acid composition of immune cells also affects phagocytosis, T-cell signaling and antigen presentation capability. These effects appear to mediated at the membrane level suggesting important roles of fatty acids in membrane order, lipid raft structure and function and membrane trafficking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / metabolism
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / cytology
  • Immune System / metabolism*
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Models, Biological
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid