n-3 fatty acids, inflammation and immunity: new mechanisms to explain old actions

Proc Nutr Soc. 2013 Aug;72(3):326-36. doi: 10.1017/S0029665113001031. Epub 2013 May 14.


Numerous effects of n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA on functional responses of cells involved in inflammation and immunity have been described. Fatty acid-induced modifications in membrane order and in the availability of substrates for eicosanoid synthesis are long-standing mechanisms that are considered important in explaining the effects observed. More recently, effects on signal transduction pathways and on gene expression profiles have been identified. Over the last 10 years or so, significant advances in understanding the mechanisms of action of n-3 fatty acids have been made. These include the identification of new actions of lipid mediators that were already described and of novel interactions among those mediators and the description of an entirely new family of lipid mediators, resolvins and protectins that have anti-inflammatory actions and are critical to the resolution of inflammation. It is also recognised that EPA and DHA can inhibit activation of the prototypical inflammatory transcription factor NF-κB. Recent studies suggest three alternative mechanisms by which n-3 fatty acids might have this effect. Within T-cells, as well as other cells of relevance to immune and inflammatory responses, EPA and DHA act to disrupt very early events involving formation of the structures termed lipid rafts which bring together various proteins to form an effective signalling platform. In summary, recent research has identified a number of new mechanisms of action that help to explain previously identified effects of n-3 fatty acids on inflammation and immunity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Membrane Microdomains / immunology
  • NF-kappa B / immunology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • NF-kappa B