The objective of this study was to examine compositional and quantitative changes in fatty acids of plasma components and red blood cell phospholipids (PL) immediately following and during recovery from burn injury.

Subjects (n = 10) with >10% total body surface area burn had blood drawn at specific timepoints (0 to >50 d) following burn injury. Fatty acid composition of red blood cell PL and plasma PL, cholesteryl esters (CE), and triglycerides was determined using gas-liquid chromatography after separating each fraction from extracted lipids by thin-layer chromatography. Total plasma PL and CE in burn patients were lower than in healthy control subjects with reduced 20:4n-6, n-6, and n-3 fatty acids and higher levels of monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids early after burn. CE levels remained half that of healthy control values up to 50 d post-burn. Red blood cell PL had decreased 20:4n-6 content and profiles similar to that of an essential fatty acid deficiency early after burn.

These results suggest an impairment in lipoprotein and polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism in the early post-burn period. Lower levels of 20:4n-6 and n-3 fatty acids in every plasma fraction suggest increased use of these fatty acids for wound healing and immune function following burn injury. Further work is needed to determine the ability of burn patients to utilize essential fatty acids in order to design nutritional intervention that promotes wound healing and immunological functions consistent with recovery in these patients.