The objectives of this study were to assess the effects of long-term supplementation with arachidonic acid (AA; 20:4n-6) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) on cell phenotypes and cytokine production in children.

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial provided children, (ages 5-7 years; n = 37) who had low intakes of DHA, with a dietary supplement containing AA (20-30 mg daily) and DHA (14-21 mg daily) or a placebo supplement for 7 months. After the supplementation period, a series of stimulants (pokeweed mitogen, phytohemagluttinin, lipopolysaccharide, beta-lactoglobulin, and ibuprofen) was used to stimulate peripheral blood mononuclear cells ex vivo. Antigen expression on T cells (CD25 and CD80), B cells, and macrophages (CD54), as well as cytokine production (interleukin [IL]-4, IL-10, tumor necrosis factor, IL-2, IL-6, and interferon-gamma), were measured using flow cytometry, monoclonal antibodies, and cytometric bead array, respectively.

Mononuclear cells from children provided long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) had fewer CD8+ cells expressing CD25 and CD80 compared with placebo after exposure to each mitogen. The LCPUFA group also exhibited lower proportions of CD14+ cells after stimulation with beta-lactoglobulin and ibuprofen. The proportion of CD54+ cells was 2-fold higher for the LCPUFA group compared with placebo after exposure to ibuprofen and beta-lactoglobulin (P < 0.05). Each of these immune effects related to the amount of AA and/or DHA in the plasma and erythrocyte phospholipids.

Alterations in cell phenotypes were evident when children were supplemented with AA and DHA. The results of this study have important implications for immune development and sensitivity to antigens in children.