Our previous studies revealed that offspring from rat dams fed fish oil (at 8% and 18% energy), developed impaired intestinal barriers sensitizing the colon to exacerbated injury later in life. To discern the mechanism, we hypothesized that in utero exposure to fish oil, rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), caused abnormal intestinal reparative responses to mucosal injury through differences in intestinal microbiota and the presence of naïve immune cells.

To identify such mechanisms, gut microbes and naïve immune cells were compared between rat pups born to dams fed either n-6 PUFA, n-3 PUFA or breeder chow. Maternal exposure to either of the PUFA rich diets altered the development of the intestinal microbiota with an overall reduction in microbial density. Using qPCR, we found that each type of PUFA differentially altered the major gut phyla; fish oil increased Bacteroidetes and safflower oil increased Firmicutes.

Both PUFA diets reduced microbes known to dominate the infant gut like Enterobacteriaceae and Bifidobacteria spp. when compared to the chow group. Uniquely, maternal fish oil diets resulted in offspring showing blooms of opportunistic pathogens like Bilophila wadsworthia, Enterococcus faecium and Bacteroides fragilis in their gut microbiota. As well, fish oil groups showed a reduction in colonic CD8+ T cells, CD4+ Foxp3+ T cells and arginase+ M2 macrophages.

In conclusion, fish oil supplementation in pharmacological excess, at 18% by energy as shown in this study, provides an example where excess dosing in utero can prime offspring to harbor intestinal pathobionts and alter immune cell homeostasis.

PMID: 25559197

See following website for full manuscript.