Dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) may represent a mode of allergy prevention.

Cord blood (CB) CD34+ hemopoietic progenitors are altered in infants at risk of atopy. We therefore studied the effects of dietary n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy on numbers and function of progenitors in neonates at high risk of atopy.

In a double-blind study, atopic, pregnant women were randomized to receive fish oil capsules or placebo from 20 wk gestation until delivery. At birth, CB CD34+ cells were isolated and analyzed by flow cytometry for expression of cytokine (IL-5Ralpha, IL-3Ralpha, granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor Ralpha) or chemokine (CXCR4 and CCR3) receptors. CB cells were also cultured in methylcellulose assays for eosinophil/basophil colony-forming cells. At age 1 y, infants were clinically assessed for atopic symptoms and skin tests.

Percentages of CB CD34+ cell numbers were higher after n-3 PUFA than placebo. Co-expression of cytokine or chemokine receptors on CD34 cells was not altered by n-3 PUFA supplementation. However, there were significantly more IL-5-responsive CB eosinophil/basophil colony forming units (Eo/B-CFU) in the fish oil, compared with the control, group.

Overall, there was a positive association between CD34+ cells and IL-5-responsive Eo/B-CFU in CB and 1 y clinical outcomes, including atopic dermatitis and wheeze. Dietary n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy in atopic mothers alters infant cord blood hemopoietic progenitor phenotype. This may have an impact on development of atopic disease.