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Genes Nutr. 2018 Apr 10;13:9. doi: 10.1186/s12263-018-0600-z. eCollection 2018.

Plasma fatty acid levels and gene expression related to lipid metabolism in peripheral blood mononuclear cells: a cross-sectional study in healthy subjects.

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1Department of Nutrition, Institute for Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1046, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway.
2Norwegian National Advisory Unit on Familial Hypercholesterolemia, Department of Endocrinology, Morbid Obesity and Preventive Medicine, Oslo University Hospital, P.O. Box 4950, Nydalen, 0424 Oslo, Norway.
3Department of Health, Nutrition and Management, Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, P.O. Box 4, St. Olavs plass, 0130 Oslo, Norway.



Solid evidence indicates that intake of marine n-3 fatty acids lowers serum triglycerides and that replacing saturated fatty acids (SFA) with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) reduces plasma total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The molecular mechanisms underlying these health beneficial effects are however not completely elucidated. The aim of this study was therefore to investigate the expression of genes related to lipid metabolism in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) depending on the plasma levels of n-6 and n-3 fatty acids and the SFA to PUFA ratio.


Fifty-four healthy subjects were grouped into tertiles (n = 18) based on plasma levels of n-6 and n-3 fatty acids and the SFA to PUFA ratio. The PBMC gene expression levels among subjects in the highest versus the lowest tertiles were compared. In total, 285 genes related to cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism were selected for this explorative study.


Among the 285 selected genes, 161 were defined as expressed in the PBMCs. The plasma SFA to PUFA ratio was associated with the highest number of significantly different expressed genes (25 gene transcripts), followed by plasma n-6 fatty acid level (15 gene transcripts) and plasma n-3 fatty acid level (8 gene transcripts). In particular, genes involved in cholesterol homeostasis were significantly different expressed among subjects with high compared to low plasma SFA to PUFA ratio.


Genes involved in lipid metabolism were differentially expressed in PBMCs depending on the plasma fatty acid levels. This finding may increase our understanding of how fatty acids influence lipid metabolism at a molecular level in humans.


Cardiovascular risk factors; Fat quality; Gene expression; Lipid metabolism; Nutrition; Peripheral blood mononuclear cells; Plasma fatty acids

Conflict of interest statement

The intervention study was conducted according to the guidelines laid down in the Declaration of Helsinki, and all procedures involving human subjects were approved by the Regional Committee of Medical Ethics (approval no. 6.2008.2215) and the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (approval no. 21924). Written informed consent was obtained from all participants. The study was registered at (ID no. NCT01034423).Dr. Holven has received research grants and/or personal fees from Tine SA, Mills SA, Olympic Seafood, Kaneka, Amgen, Sanofi, and Pronova, none of which are related to the content of this manuscript. Dr. Ulven has received research grants from Tine DA, Mills DA, and Olympic Seafood, none of which are related to the content of this manuscript. The other authors declare that they have no competing interests.Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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