Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Symposium on ‘Dietary influences on mucosal immunity’

Dietary fatty acid modulation of mucosally-induced tolerogenic immune responses

Laurence S. Harbigea1 c1 and Benjamin A. C. Fishera1

a1 School of Chemical and Life Sciences, University of Greenwich, Wellington Street, London SE18 6PF, UK


Immunological unresponsiveness or hyporesponsiveness (tolerance) can be induced by feeding protein antigens to naïve animals. Using a classical oral ovalbumin gut-induced tolerance protocol in BALB/c mice we investigated the effects of dietary n-6 and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) on high-and low-dose oral tolerance (and in non-tolerised animals, i.e. effects of antigen challenge alone) in relation to lymphoproliferative, cytokine and antibody responses. Fish oil rich in long-chain n-3 fatty acids decreased both T-helper (Th) 1- and Th2-like responses. In contrast, borage (Borago officinalis) oil rich in n-6 PUFA, of which γ-linolenic acid is rapidly metabolised to longer-chain n-6 PUFA, increased Th1-like responses and decreased Th2-like responses, and possibly enhanced suppressor cell or Th3-like activity. These findings are in general agreement with other studies on the effects of long chain n-3 PUFA on immune system functions, and characterise important differences between long-chain n-3 and n-6 PUFA, defining more precisely and broadly the immunological regulatory mechanisms involved. They are also discussed in relation to autoimmune disease.


c1 *Corresponding Author: Dr L. S. Harbige, fax +44 20 8331 8305, email