Fish oil, enriched in bioactive n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), has therapeutic value for the treatment of inflammation-associated disorders. The effects of n-3 PUFAs are pleiotropic and complex; hence, an understanding of their cellular targets and molecular mechanisms of action remains incomplete.

Here we focus on recent data indicating n-3 PUFAs exert immunosuppressive effects on the function of effector and regulatory CD4(+) T cells. In addition, we also present emerging evidence that n-3 PUFAs have immunomodulatory effects on B cells. We then focus on one multifaceted mechanism of n-3 PUFAs, which is the alteration of the biophysical and biochemical organization of the plasma membrane. This mechanism is central for downstream signaling, eicosanoid production, transcriptional regulation and cytokine secretion.

We highlight recent work demonstrating n-3 PUFA acyl chains in the plasma membrane target the lateral organization of membrane signaling assemblies (i.e. lipid rafts or signaling networks) and de novo phospholipid biosynthesis.

We conclude by proposing new functional and mechanistic questions in this area of research that will aid in the development of fish oil as adjuvant therapy for treating unresolved chronic inflammation.