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Long-chain fatty acids and inflammation

  • Philip C. Calder (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 28 February 2012

Inflammation plays a key role in many common conditions and diseases. Fatty acids can influence inflammation through a variety of mechanisms acting from the membrane to the nucleus. They act through cell surface and intracellular receptors that control inflammatory cell signalling and gene expression patterns. Modifications of inflammatory cell membrane fatty acid composition can modify membrane fluidity, lipid raft formation and cell signalling leading to altered gene expression and can alter the pattern of lipid and peptide mediator production. Cells involved in the inflammatory response usually contain a relatively high proportion of the n-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid in their membrane phospholipids. Eicosanoids produced from arachidonic acid have well-recognised roles in inflammation. Oral administration of the marine n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA increases the contents of EPA and DHA in the membranes of cells involved in inflammation. This is accompanied by a decrease in the amount of arachidonic acid present. EPA is a substrate for eicosanoid synthesis and these are often less potent than those produced from arachidonic acid. EPA gives rise to E-series resolvins and DHA gives rise to D-series resolvins and protectins. Resolvins and protectins are anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving. Thus, the exposure of inflammatory cells to different types of fatty acids can influence their function and so has the potential to modify inflammatory processes.

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Corresponding author: Professor Philip C. Calder, fax +44 2380 795255, email
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