1. The fatty acid composition of membrane phospholipids of stimulated and unstimulated platelets was studied in six normal volunteers given a daily dietary supplement of a fish oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) for 4 weeks. The supplement was equivalent to 1.8 g of EPA daily. Thromboxane synthesis and platelet aggregation responses to sodium arachidonate, thrombin and the ionophore A23187 were also investigated.
2. A marked increase in the relative EPA content of phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) was noted after 2 and 4 weeks fish oil supplementation. However, there was no incorporation into phosphatidylinositol (PI) or phosphatidylserine (PS). The relative arachidonic acid (AA) content of PC and PE was significantly reduced at 2 and 4 weeks but that of PI and PS remained unchanged. Significant reductions in the relative linoleic acid content of total phospholipids, PC and PE were also noted.
3. Stimulation of platelets obtained after 4 weeks fish oil supplementation by thrombin and A23187 was associated with a marked reduction in the AA content of PI and a minor reduction in that of PE. There was no change in the relative proportions of EPA in PI, PS, PC or PE after stimulation. Throughout the study there were no significant changes in platelet aggregation responses or in platelet thromboxane production.
4. Our results indicate that the incorporation of EPA into the platelet membrane phospholipids is selective and that if PI is the major source of AA for platelet prostaglandin biosynthesis then the reported beneficial effects of EPA on haemostasis cannot be explained on the basis of its incorporation into and mobilization from the platelet membrane phospholipid pool.