The Open Cell Development & Biology Journal


ISSN: 1874-0855 ― Volume 3, 2011

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids Kill Thymocytes and Increase Membrane Fluidity

Aparna Prasad1, Mari Åhs§2, Alexey Goncharov1, David O. Carpenter*, 1 , 2
1 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University at Albany, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA
2 Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA



Omega-3 but not omega-6 fatty acids are thought to promote cardiovascular health by increasing membrane fluidity.


The actions of acute application of omega-3 [docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3), eicosapentaenoic (EPA, 20:5n-3) and α-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3)] and omega-6 [docosatetraenoic acid (DTA, 22:4n-6), arachidonic acid (ARA, 20:5n-6) and linoleic acid (LNA, 18:2n-6)] fatty acids on plasma membrane fluidity and cytotoxicity were investigated using mouse thymocytes. Membrane fluidity was assessed by determining fluorescence polarization of 1, 6-diphenyl-1, 3, 5-hexatriene (DPH) and cell death was assessed by using propidium iodide (PI).


Membrane fluidity in omega-3 treated cells was significantly increased in the order of DHA>EPA>ALA, but DTA and ARA also increased fluidity and were even more potent. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids were acutely cytotoxic to thymocytes at concentrations that altered membrane fluidity, and omega-6 fatty acids caused more cell death than omega-3s.


The omega-6 fatty acids, DTA and ARA, are more potent than long chain omega-3 fatty acids in causing an increase in membrane fluidity in thymocytes.

General Significance

Our results suggest that the beneficial effects of fish consumption are unlikely to be secondary to a selective action of omega-3 fatty acids on membrane fluidity.

Keywords: Docosahexaenoic acid, fluorescence polarization, cell death, propidium iodide, flow cytometry, polyunsaturated fatty acids, stearic acid.

Article Information

Identifiers and Pagination:

Year: 2010
Volume: 2
First Page: 1
Last Page: 7
Publisher Id: TOCBJ-2-1
DOI: 10.2174/1874085501002010001

Article History:

Received Date: 13/2/2010
Revision Received Date: 7/4/2010
Acceptance Date: 12/4/2010
Electronic publication date: 25/5/2010
Collection year: 2010

© Prasad et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany, 5 University Place, A 217, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA; Tel: 518-525-2660; Fax: 518-525-2665; E-mail:§ Current Address: Linköping University School of Medicine, Linköping, Sweden

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