The long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC n-3 PUFA) of fish oil, eicosapentanoic (EPA) and docosahexanoic (DHA) acids are considered cardioprotective. Inflammation elicited by macrophages is increasingly recognised in the aetiology of metabolic syndrome.

This study investigated the differential anti-inflammatory potential of EPA and DHA through cytokine production and nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB signalling in a human macrophage model. We investigated the dependency of LC n-3 PUFA immune-modulation on concentration and duration of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) activation. Interleukin (IL)-1beta, IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha secretion from EPA, DHA and control cells were differentially limited by LPS concentration.

In all cases, there was no benefit in activating cells with >0.1 microg/ml LPS. LC n-3 PUFA decreased proinflammatory cytokines production, an effect modulated by LPS concentration. Expression of the transcription factor NF-kappaB p65 was significantly reduced in the nucleus and retained in the cytoplasm of EPA- and/or DHA-treated macrophages during 5-h activation with 0.1 microg/ml LPS. Nuclear binding of p65 was significantly reduced in EPA- and DHA-treated cells at 2-h LPS activation.

Over the time course, expression of nuclear IkappaBalpha was significantly reduced, cytoplasmic NF-kappaB p50 significantly increased and cytoplasmic cleaving enzyme IkappaB inhibitor complex significantly reduced in LC n-3 PUFA-treated cells. EPA and DHA down-regulated the production of proinflammatory cytokines associated with the aetiology of metabolic syndrome, NF-kappaB transcriptional activity and upstream cytoplasmic signalling events.

Immune responses are dynamic, and the present study suggests a nutrient sensitive window of LPS activation at which EPA and DHA are strongly anti-inflammatory.