Effect of dietary fatty acid composition on Th1/Th2 polarization in lymphocytes

JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2009 Jul-Aug;33(4):390-6. doi: 10.1177/0148607108325252. Epub 2009 Feb 12.


Background: It has become increasingly clear that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have immunomodulatory effects. However, the intake of these fatty acids used in animal studies often greatly exceeds dietary human intake. Whether differences in the composition of fatty acids that are consumed in amounts consistent with normal dietary intake can influence immune function remains uncertain.

Methods: We manufactured 3 types of liquid diet, related to modified fatty acid composition (omega-6/omega-3 = 0.25, 2.27 and 42.9), but excluding eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, based upon a liquid diet used clinically in humans. We assessed CD3-stimulated cytokine production of splenocytes in female BALB/c mice (n = 4 per group) fed 1 of 3 liquid diets for 4 weeks. We also measured the cytokine production of peripheral blood mononuclear cells stimulated with phorbol myristate acetate and ionomycin in humans at the end of a 4-week period of consumption of 2 different liquid diets (omega-6/omega-3 = 3 and 44).

Results: We found that the ratio of interfero omega-gamma (IFN-gamma) / interleukin-4 (IL-4) was significantly higher in mice fed the omega-3 rich diet than in others. In humans, IFN-gamma / IL-4 was significantly higher after the omega-3 versus the omega-6 enhanced diet.

Conclusions: Differences in the composition of omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs induces a shift in the Th1/Th2 balance in both mouse and human lymphocytes, even when ingested in normal dietary amounts. An omega-3 rich diet containing alpha-linolenic acid modulates immune function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology*
  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interleukin-4 / blood
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Middle Aged
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Th1 Cells*
  • Th2 Cells*


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma