Prevalence of allergy is increasing in many countries and might be related to changed environmental factors, such as dietary fatty acids (FA). The present study investigates whether dietary ratio of n-6 to n-3 FA influences the induction of immunological tolerance to ovalbumin (OA) in neonatal rats.

During late gestation and throughout lactation Sprague-Dawley rats were fed a diet containing 7% linseed oil (n-3 diet), sunflower oil (n-6 diet) or soybean oil (n-6/n-3 diet). At 10-16 days of age the rat offspring were subsequently exposed, or not, to OA via the milk.

The offspring were weaned onto the same diets as the mothers and immunized with OA and the bystander antigen human serum albumin (HSA). In the offspring on the n-3 diet exposure to OA via the milk resulted in lower delayed type hypersensitivity reaction (DTH) and antibody responses against both OA and HSA, compared to those in the offspring not exposed to OA, indicating the induction of oral tolerance.

In the offspring on the n-6 diet, the exposure to OA led to depressed specific immune responses against only OA, not HSA. In the offspring on the n-6/n-3 diet oral exposure to OA did not influence immune responses against OA, or HSA. The results indicate that the dietary ratio of n-6/n-3 FA is important for the induction of neonatal oral tolerance.

Thus nonoptimal feeding may have effects on the development of immunological tolerance to dietary antigen ingested by the mother. The ratio of n-6/n-3 FA in the diet may be considered in the context of increased prevalence of allergy.