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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2012 Sep;32(9):2122-30. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.112.253435. Epub 2012 Jul 19.

Omega-3 fatty acids ameliorate atherosclerosis by favorably altering monocyte subsets and limiting monocyte recruitment to aortic lesions.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Section on Lipid Sciences, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Medical Center Blvd, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1040, USA.



Fish oil, containing omega-3 fatty acids, attenuates atherosclerosis. We hypothesized that omega-3 fatty acid-enriched oils are atheroprotective through alteration of monocyte subsets and their trafficking into atherosclerotic lesions.


Low-density lipoprotein receptor knockout and apolipoprotein E(-/-) mice were fed diets containing 10% (calories) palm oil and 0.2% cholesterol, supplemented with an additional 10% palm oil, echium oil (containing 18:4 n-3), or fish oil. Compared with palm oil-fed low-density lipoprotein receptor knockout mice, echium oil and fish oil significantly reduced plasma cholesterol, splenic Ly6C(hi) monocytosis by ≈50%, atherosclerosis by 40% to 70%, monocyte trafficking into the aortic root by ≈50%, and atherosclerotic lesion macrophage content by 30% to 44%. In contrast, atherosclerosis and monocyte trafficking into the artery wall was not altered by omega-3 fatty acids in apolipoprotein E(-/-) mice; however, Ly6C(hi) splenic monocytes positively correlated with aortic root intimal area across all diet groups. In apolipoprotein E(-/-) mice, fish oil reduced the percentage of blood Ly6C(hi) monocytes, despite an average 2-fold higher plasma cholesterol relative to palm oil.


The presence of splenic Ly6C(hi) monocytes parallels the appearance of atherosclerotic disease in both low-density lipoprotein receptor knockout and apolipoprotein E(-/-) mice. Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids favorably alter monocyte subsets independently from effects on plasma cholesterol and reduce monocyte recruitment into atherosclerotic lesions.

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