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The fatty acid compositions of the neutral lipid and phospholipid fractions of rat lymph node lymphocytes were characterized. Stimulation of rat lymphocytes with the T-cell mitogen concanavalin A resulted in significant changes in the fatty acid composition of both neutral lipids and phospholipids (a decrease in the proportions of stearic, linoleic and arachidonic acids and an increase in the proportion of oleic acid). Membrane fluidity was measured using nitroxide spin-label e.s.r., and increased during culture with concanavalin A. Culturing the lymphocytes in the absence of mitogen did not affect fatty acid composition or membrane fluidity. The uptake and fate of palmitic, oleic, linoleic and arachidonic acids were studied in detail; there was a time-dependent incorporation of each fatty acid into all lipid classes but each fatty acid had a characteristic fate. Palmitic and arachidonic acids were incorporated principally into phospholipids whereas oleic and linoleic acids were incorporated in similar proportions into phospholipids and triacylglycerols. Oleic acid was incorporated mainly into phosphatidylcholine, palmitic and linoleic acids were incorporated equally into phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine, and arachidonic acid was incorporated mainly into phosphatidylethanolamine. Supplementation of the culture medium with particular fatty acids (myristic, palmitic, stearic, oleic, linoleic, alpha-linolenic, arachidonic, eicosapentaenoic or docosahexaenoic acid) led to enrichment of that fatty acid in both neutral lipids and phospholipids. This generated lymphocytes with phospholipids differing in saturated/unsaturated fatty acid ratio, degree of polyunsaturation, index of unsaturation and n - 6/n - 3 ratio. This method allowed the introduction into lymphocyte phospholipids of fatty acids not normally present (e.g. alpha-linolenic) or usually present in low proportions (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic). These three n - 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids replaced arachidonic acid in lymphocyte phospholipids. Fatty acid incorporation led to an alteration in lymphocyte membrane fluidity: palmitic and stearic acids decreased fluidity whereas the unsaturated fatty acids increased fluidity. It is proposed that the changes in lymphocyte phospholipid fatty acid composition and membrane fluidity brought about by culture in the presence of polyunsaturated fatty acids are responsible for the inhibition of lymphocyte functions caused by these fatty acids.


Journal article


Biochem J

Publication Date



300 ( Pt 2)


509 - 518


Animals, Cell Membrane, Cells, Cultured, Concanavalin A, Fatty Acids, Lymphocytes, Male, Membrane Fluidity, Rats, Rats, Wistar