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Transplantation. 2001 Aug 27;72(4):706-11.

Omega-3 fatty acids enhance tumor necrosis factor-alpha levels in heart transplant recipients.

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  • 1Department of Cardiology, Research Institute for Internal Medicine, University of Oslo, Rikshospitalet, Norway.



Proinflammatory cytokines may contribute to clinical complications in heart transplant (HTx) recipients. Previous studies have shown immunomodulating effects of omega-3 fatty acids, but the results are somewhat conflicting. In this study, we examined plasma levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin (IL) 10, and their relations to antioxidant vitamins in 45 HTx recipients before and after treatment with omega-3 fatty acids or placebo.


The patients were long-time survivors of heart transplantation, randomized in a double-blind fashion to receive omega-3 fatty acids (3.4 g/day) or placebo for 1 year. Plasma levels of cytokines were measured by enzyme immunoassays and vitamin A, vitamin E, and beta-carotene by high-performance liquid chromatography.


In the omega-3, but not in the placebo group, there was a rise in the proinflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha (P<0.05), a decrease in the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 (P=0.07), and a rise in TNF/IL-10 ratio (P<0.05) after 12 months, suggesting a proinflammatory net effect. In the omega-3 group, the increase in TNF-alpha was associated with an increase in eicosapentaenoic acid in plasma (r=0.58, P<0.02). During omega-3 fatty-acid treatment, but not during placebo, there was a decrease in vitamin E (P<0.05) and beta-carotene (P<0.05) levels, and the decrease in vitamin E was inversely correlated with the increase in TNF-alpha (r= -0.56, P<0.01). The rise in TNF-alpha levels during omega-3 fatty acids treatment was most pronounced in those patients with transplant coronary artery disease (P<0.04).


Our data suggest that omega-3 fatty acids in HTx recipients may change the balance between proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in an inflammatory direction, possibly related to prooxidative effects of these fatty acids.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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