Omega-3 fatty acids ameliorate vascular inflammation: a rationale for their atheroprotective effects

Anthony D Pisaniello, Peter J Psaltis, Peta M King, Ge Liu, Robert A Gibson, Joanne Tan, MyNgan Duong, Tracy Nguyen, Christina A Bursill, Matthew I Worthley, Stephen J Nicholls, Belinda A Di Bartolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Clinical trials have demonstrated reductions in major adverse cardiovascular events with purified high-dose eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), independent of effects on lipids. We aimed to investigate whether omega-3 fatty acids reduce vascular inflammation, a critical mediator of atherosclerosis, and hypothesised that EPA is superior to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

METHODS: In a double-blind randomised controlled trial and cell-culture study, 40 healthy volunteers were supplemented with 4 g daily of either EPA, DHA, fish oil (2:1 EPA:DHA), or placebo for 30 days. Serum was incubated with TNF-stimulated human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), and markers of acute vascular inflammation (AVI) were measured. The effects of EPA, DHA (600 mg/kg/day), olive oil, or no treatment were also measured in preclinical models of [1] AVI using a periarterial collar (C57Bl/6J; n = 40 mice) and [2] atherosclerosis where ApoE-/- mice (n = 40) were fed a 16-week atherogenic diet.

RESULTS: EPA supplementation reduced expression of C-C motif chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2) by 25% compared to placebo (p = 0.03). In the AVI model, EPA reduced vascular expression of VCAM1 by 43% (p = 0.02) and CCL2 by 41% (p = 0.03). Significant inverse correlations were observed between EPA levels and vascular expression of VCAM1 (r = -0.56, p = 0.001) and CCL2 (r = -0.56, p = 0.001). In ApoE-/- mice, EPA reduced aortic expression of Il1b by 44% (p = 0.04) and Tnf by 49% (p = 0.04), with similar inverse correlations between EPA levels and both Il1b (r = -0.63, p = 0.009) and Tnf (r = -0.50, p = 0.04).

CONCLUSIONS: Supplementation with EPA, more so than DHA, ameliorates acute and chronic vascular inflammation, providing a rationale for the cardiovascular benefit observed with high dose omega-3 fatty acid administration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-37
Number of pages11
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Mar 2021

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