British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Fatty acids and immune function: new insights into mechanisms

Parveen Yaqooba1 c1 and Philip C. Caldera2

a1 Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, School of Food Biosciences, The University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, United Kingdom

a2 Institute of Human Nutrition, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton SO16 6YD, United Kingdom


Fatty acids are known to play diverse roles in immune cells. They are important as a source of energy, as structural components of cell membranes, as signaling molecules and as precursors for the synthesis of eicosanoids and similar mediators. Recent research has suggested that the localization and organisation of fatty acids into distinct cellular pools has a direct influence on the behaviour of a number of proteins involved in immune cell activation, including those associated with T cell responses, antigen presentation and fatty acid-derived inflammatory mediator production. This article reviews these studies and places them in the context of existing literature in the field. These studies indicate the existence of several novel mechanisms by which altered fatty acid availability can modulate immune responses and impact upon clinical outcomes.


c1 Corresponding author: Dr P. Yaqoob, fax +44 118 931 0800, email


Abbreviations: DHA, docosahexaenoic acid; DPA, docosapentaenoic acid; EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid; GPI, glycosylphosphatidylinositol; LAT, linker of activated T cells; LT, leukotriene; MHC, major histocompatability complex; PG, prostaglandin; PUFA, polyunsaturated fatty acid; TCR, T-cell receptor