Inflammation is a condition which contributes to a range of human diseases. It involves a multitude of cell types, chemical mediators, and interactions. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids found in oily fish and fish oil supplements. These fatty acids are able to partly inhibit a number of aspects of inflammation including leukocyte chemotaxis, adhesion molecule expression and leukocyte-endothelial adhesive interactions, production of eicosanoids like prostaglandins and leukotrienes from the n-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid, production of inflammatory cytokines, and T-helper 1 lymphocyte reactivity. In addition, EPA gives rise to eicosanoids that often have lower biological potency than those produced from arachidonic acid and EPA and DHA give rise to anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving mediators called resolvins, protectins and maresins. Mechanisms underlying the anti-inflammatory actions of marine n-3 fatty acids include altered cell membrane phospholipid fatty acid composition, disruption of lipid rafts, inhibition of activation of the pro-inflammatory transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B so reducing expression of inflammatory genes, activation of the anti-inflammatory transcription factor peroxisome proliferator activated receptor γ and binding to the G protein coupled receptor GPR120. These mechanisms are interlinked, although the full extent of this is not yet elucidated. Animal experiments demonstrate benefit from marine n-3 fatty acids in models of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and asthma. Clinical trials of fish oil in RA demonstrate benefit, but clinical trials of fish oil in IBD and asthma are inconsistent with no overall clear evidence of efficacy. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled "Oxygenated metabolism of PUFA: analysis and biological relevance".
Keywords: Cytokine; Eicosanoid; Inflammation; Lymphocyte; Macrophage; Resolvin.
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