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J Nutr. 1996 Mar;126(3):603-10.

(n-3) Polyunsaturated fatty acids modulate the expression of functionally associated molecules on human monocytes in vitro.

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Department of Nutrition, Diet and Health, Institute of Food Research, Norwich Laboratory, United Kingdom.


Diets rich in (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are associated with suppression of the immune system, but the mechanisms are unclear. Specific immune responses are initiated by antigen-presenting cells. This study examines the in vitro effect of the (n-3) PUFA eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on the expression of cell surface molecules required for normal antigen-presenting cell function on human blood monocytes. Monocytes were incubated with or without EPA or DHA for 48 h at 37 degrees C. Following incubation, expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules (HLA-DR, -DP and -DQ) and adhesion molecules [intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and leucocyte function associated antigen-1] was quantified by flow cytometry. In the presence of EPA alone there was a significantly lower median intensity of expression of HLA-DR and ICAM-1 relative to incubations without EPA. In contrast, significantly greater median intensities of expression of HLA-DR and -DP were observed following incubation with DHA. In parallel experiments, where monocytes were simultaneously activated by the addition of interferon-gamma to the cultures, median expression intensities of HLA-DR, -DP and ICAM-1 were significantly lower in the presence of either EPA or DHA compared with incubations without the (n-3) PUFA. These findings support previous animal studies that suggest that (n-3) PUFA can influence immune reactivity by modulating antigen-presenting cell function.

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