British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Effects of dietary lipids on immune function in a murine sensitisation model

Ruud Albersa1, Marianne Bola2, Astrid Willemsa1, Cor Blonka1 and Raymond Pieters c1

a1 Unilever Health Institute, P.O. Box 114, 3130 AC Vlaardingen, The Netherlands

a2 IRAS-Immunotoxicology, Utrecht University P.O. Box 80176, 3508 TD Utrecht,The Netherlands


We have tested the effect of dietary fatty acids on aspects of innate and specific adaptive T helper (Th) 1- and Th2-driven immune responses in a murine sensitisation model using dinitrochlorobenzene as sensitiser. Six groups of fifteen BALB/c mice were fed diets containing 30 % fat (by energy) for 8 weeks. Diets were rich in saturated fatty acids, n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), or n-3 PUFA, each at a sufficient (11, 35 and 68 mg/kg) and a supplemented vitamin E level (1028, 1031 and 1030 mg/kg respectively). Feeding n-6 PUFA marginally decreased % phagocytosing cells at the low vitamin E level, but had no other effects on immune function. The n-3 PUFA diets decreased production of prostaglandin E2 while increasing oxidative burst and tumour necrosis factor α production. In addition adaptive Th1-driven responses (immunoglobulin, Ig)G2a, IgG2b, interferon-γ:interleukin 4) were decreased, whereas Th2-driven and mucosal immune responses were increased (IgE) or unaffected (IgG1, IgA). Combination with high levels of α-tocopherol did not affect the reduced prostaglandin E2 production, augmented the increase of tumour necrosis factor α production and tended to ameliorate the selective suppressive effects of n-3 PUFA on certain Th1-driven effects (interferon-γ:interleukin 4 ratio and IgG2a levels). We conclude that the sensitisation model appears useful for application in nutrition research. It allows a broad assessment of the effects of dietary intervention on various aspects of immune responsiveness, and as such provides a valuable model to assess, characterise and rank effects of foods and/or nutrients on a range of immune functions, including Th1–Th2 polarisation.

(Received September 24 2001)

(Revised March 07 2001)

(Accepted April 05 2002)


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Raymond Pieters, fax +31 10 460 5993, email