British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Innovative Techniques

Comparison of the incorporation of orally administered DHA into plasma, erythrocyte and cheek cell glycerophospholipids

Mario Klinglera1, Sabrina Klema1, Hans Demmelmaira1 and Berthold Koletzkoa1 c1

a1 Division of Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine, University of Munich Medical Center, Dr. von Hauner Children's Hospital, Lindwurmstrasse 4, 80337 Munich, Germany


Adequate intake of n-3 fatty acids plays an important role in human health. The analysis of various blood lipids is used as a measure of fatty acid status in humans. Cheek cell phospholipids (PL) have also been proposed as biological markers, but are rarely used in clinical studies due to limitations in sample quality and quantity. An improved method for the analysis of cheek cell glycerophospholipid fatty acids is applied in a 29 d supplementation trial with 510 mg DHA daily. The DHA increases in cheek cell, plasma and erythrocyte glycerophospholipids are compared. High correlations are shown for glycerophospholipid DHA between cheek cells and plasma (r 0·88) and erythrocytes (r 0·76) before study commencement. After the daily supplementation of DHA, the half-maximal glycerophospholipid DHA level is reached after about 4 d in plasma, 6 d in erythrocytes and 10 d in cheek cells. The mean DHA increase (mol%) relative to baseline was most prominent in plasma (186 %), followed by cheek cells (180 %) and erythrocytes (130 %). Considering a lag phase of about 5 d, cheek cells reflect short-term changes in dietary fat uptake. Based on the data of the present study, they can be used alternatively to plasma and erythrocyte PL as non-invasive n-3 fatty acid status markers.

(Received January 23 2012)

(Revised April 25 2012)

(Accepted April 29 2012)

(Online publication July 03 2012)

Key Words:

  • Cheek cells;
  • DHA;
  • Glycerophospholipids;
  • Fatty acids


c1 Corresponding author: Professor B. Koletzko, fax +49 89 5160 7742, E-mail:


  Abbreviations: ARA, arachidonic acid; FAME, fatty acid methyl ester; GPL, glycerophospholipids; PL, phospholipids