Evaluation of suppressive and pro-resolving effects of EPA and DHA in human primary monocytes and T-helper cells

J Lipid Res. 2013 Apr;54(4):923-35. doi: 10.1194/jlr.P031260. Epub 2013 Jan 24.


Despite their beneficial anti-inflammatory properties, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may increase the infection risk at high doses, likely by generating an immune-depressed state. To assess the contribution of different immune cell populations to the immunomodulatory fatty acid effect, we comparatively investigated several aspects of inflammation in human T-helper (Th) cells and monocytes. Both fatty acids, but DHA to a lesser extent compared with EPA, selectively and dose-dependently reduced the percentage of cytokine-expressing Th cells in a peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)γ-dependent fashion, whereas the expression of the cell surface marker CD69 was unaltered on activated T cells. In monocytes, both EPA and DHA increased interleukin (IL)-10 without affecting tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and IL-6. Cellular incorporation of EPA and DHA occurred mainly at the expense of arachidonic acid. Concomitantly, thromboxane B (TXB)2 and leukotriene B (LTB)4 in supernatants decreased, while levels of TXB3 and LTB5 increased. This increase was independent of activation and in accordance with cyclooxygenase expression patterns in monocytes. Moreover, EPA and DHA gave rise to a variety of mono- and trihydroxy derivatives of highly anti-inflammatory potential, such as resolvins and their precursors. Our results suggest that EPA and DHA do not generally affect immune cell functions in an inhibitory manner but rather promote pro-resolving responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arachidonic Acid / pharmacology
  • Benzamides / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-10 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-4 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Monocytes / drug effects*
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • PPAR gamma / metabolism
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / metabolism
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Benzamides
  • Interleukin-6
  • PPAR gamma
  • Pyridines
  • T 0070907
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interleukin-10
  • Interleukin-4
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid