Mechanistic insights into cardiovascular protection for omega-3 fatty acids and their bioactive lipid metabolites

Timothy D. O'Connell, Richard Preston Mason, Matthew J. Budoff, Ann Marie Navar, Gregory C. Shearer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Patients with well-controlled low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, but persistent high triglycerides, remain at increased risk for cardiovascular events as evidenced by multiple genetic and epidemiologic studies, as well as recent clinical outcome trials. While many trials of low-dose x3-polyunsaturated fatty acids (x3-PUFAs), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have shown mixed results to reduce cardiovascular events, recent trials with high-dose x3-PUFAs have reignited interest in x3-PUFAs, particularly EPA, in cardiovascular disease (CVD). REDUCE-IT demonstrated that high-dose EPA (4 g/day icosapent-ethyl) reduced a composite of clinical events by 25% in statin-treated patients with established CVD or diabetes and other cardiovascular risk factors. Outcome trials in similar statin-treated patients using DHA-containing high-dose x3 formulations have not yet shown the benefits of EPA alone. However, there are data to show that high-dose x3-PUFAs in patients with acute myocardial infarction had reduced left ventricular remodelling, non-infarct myocardial fibrosis, and systemic inflammation. x3-polyunsaturated fatty acids, along with their metabolites, such as oxylipins and other lipid mediators, have complex effects on the cardiovascular system. Together they target free fatty acid receptors and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors in various tissues to modulate inflammation and lipid metabolism. Here, we review these multifactorial mechanisms of x3-PUFAs in view of recent clinical findings. These findings indicate physico-chemical and biological diversity among x3-PUFAs that influence tissue distributions as well as disparate effects on membrane organization, rates of lipid oxidation, as well as various receptor-mediated signal transduction pathways and effects on gene expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)J3-J20
JournalEuropean Heart Journal, Supplement
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conflict of interest: T.D.O., R.P.M., M.J.B., A.M.N., and G.C.S. have received honoraria for consultation and instruction, and T.D.O., R.P.M., A.M.N., and M.J.B. have received grant/research support from Amarin Pharma Inc. R.P.M. has also received support from Pfizer Inc., Amgen Inc., ARCA Biopharma, and Novartis AG. R.P.M. is also a paid speaker and consultant for Amarin Pharma Inc., Pfizer Inc., and Novartis AG. A.M.N. has received funding for research to her institution from Amgen, Janssen, Amarin, Sanofi, Regeneron, and honoraria and consulting fees from Amgen, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Esperion, Amarin, Sanofi, Regeneron, NovoNordisk, Novartis, The Medicines Company, New Amsterdam, and Pfizer.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health and National Heart Lung Blood Institutes [R01 HL130099 and R01 HL152215 to T.D.O. and G.C.S., K01 HL133416 to A.M.N.]. This paper was published as part of a supplement supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Amarin Pharma, Inc.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Oxylipin Free fatty acid receptor (FFAR)
  • Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)


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