2003 Volume 92 Issue 4 Pages 308-316
It is widely accepted that n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) rich in fish oils protect against several types of cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction, arrhythmia, atherosclerosis, or hypertension. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may be the active biological components of these effects. Although the precise cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects are still uncertain, the protective effects of n-3 PUFAs are attributable to their direct effects on vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) functions. These n-3 PUFAs activate K+ATP channels and inhibit certain types of Ca2+ channels, probably via at least 2 distinct mechanisms. N-3 PUFAs favorably alter the eicosanoid profile and regulate cytokine-induced expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase and cyclooxygenase-2 via mechanisms involving modulation of signaling transduction events. N-3 PUFAs also modulate VSMC proliferation, migration, and apoptosis. These recent data suggest that modulation of these VSMC functions contribute to the beneficial effects of n-3 PUFAs on various cardiovascular disorders. Furthermore, recent studies strongly suggest that DHA has more potent and beneficial effects than EPA. However, many questions about the cellular and molecular mechanisms still remain to be answered.