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J Lipid Res. 2005 Jul;46(7):1474-83. Epub 2005 Apr 16.

Compartmental modeling to quantify alpha-linolenic acid conversion after longer term intake of multiple tracer boluses.

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Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


To estimate in vivo alpha-linolenic acid (ALA; C18:3n-3) conversion, 29 healthy subjects consumed for 28 days a diet providing 7% of energy from linoleic acid (C18:2n-6) and 0.4% from ALA. On day 19, subjects received a single bolus of 30 mg of uniformly labeled [(13)C]ALA and for the next 8 days 10 mg twice daily. Fasting plasma phospholipid concentrations of (12)C- and (13)C-labeled ALA, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; C20:5n-3), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA; C22:5n-3), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; C22:6n-3) were determined on days 19, 21, 23, 26, 27, and 28. To estimate hepatic conversion of n-3 fatty acids, a tracer model was developed based on the averaged (13)C data of the participants. A similar tracee model was solved using the averaged (12)C values, the kinetic parameters derived from the tracer model, and mean ALA consumption. ALA incorporation into plasma phospholipids was estimated by solving both models simultaneously. It was found that nearly 7% of dietary ALA was incorporated into plasma phospholipids. From this pool, 99.8% was converted into EPA and 1% was converted into DPA and subsequently into DHA. The limited incorporation of dietary ALA into the hepatic phospholipid pool contributes to the low hepatic conversion of ALA into EPA. A low conversion of ALA-derived EPA into DPA might be an additional obstacle for DHA synthesis.

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