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Immunology. 1994 Aug;82(4):603-10.

The effect of dietary lipid manipulation on rat lymphocyte subsets and proliferation.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, U.K.


Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) have been shown to suppress immune cell functions in vitro. Dietary studies investigating the effects of PUFA-containing oils on lymphocyte functions have yielded contradictory findings: such studies are difficult to compare as there are many variations in protocols. The present study investigated the effects of diets containing oils rich in saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, n-6 PUFA or n-3 PUFA on rat lymphocyte proliferation and on receptor and surface marker expression. Rats were fed for 10 weeks on a low-fat (LF) diet (approximately 2% fat by weight) or on one of five high-fat diets, which contained 20% (by weight) hydrogenated coconut oil (HCO), olive oil (OO), safflower oil (SO), evening primrose oil (EPO) or menhaden (fish) oil (MO). Compared with feeding the LF diet, all of the high-fat diets suppressed the proliferation of lymphocytes from the spleen: although there was no significant effect of diet on the proliferation of lymphocytes from the thymus, there was a trend towards decreased proliferation with high-fat feeding. Feeding the OO, EPO or MO diets significantly suppressed proliferation of mesenteric lymph node lymphocytes compared with feeding the LF, HCO or SO diets. Dietary lipid manipulation had no effect on the proportion of T cells, B cells or monocytes/macrophages in the spleen, thymus or lymph nodes. Dietary lipid manipulation also had no significant effect on the proportions of CD4+ or CD8+ lymphocytes in spleen, thymus or lymph nodes, either in freshly prepared cells or in cells cultured in the presence of mitogen. There were no significant effects of dietary lipid manipulation on the expression of IL-2 receptors or transferrin receptors by concanavalin A (Con A)-stimulated lymphocytes. However, there was a trend towards a decrease in transferrin receptor expression by Con A-stimulated lymphocytes from the thymus and lymph nodes of the MO-fed rats and towards a decrease in the expression of IL-2 receptors by lymphocytes from the spleens and thymi of the MO-fed rats. These observations provide evidence that some dietary oils, particularly OO, EPO and MO, possess immunosuppressive properties and so may be useful in the therapy of diseases involving inappropriate lymphocyte activation.

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