• oral tolerance;
  • diet;
  • fatty acids;
  • lactation;
  • neonatal period

The present study examines whether dietary essential fatty acid (EFA) intake influences the induction of oral tolerance to ovalbumin (OA) in neonatal and adult rats. During late gestation and throughout lactation Sprague–Dawley rats were fed a diet supplemented (S) with EFA (7% soybean oil), or a diet deficient (D) in EFA (7% hydrogenated lard). The rat offspring were subsequently exposed to OA either via the milk at 10–16 days (neonatal rats), or as adults via the drinking water at 7–9 wk of age. Oral administration of OA to the adult rats lead to suppression of the delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactivity and IgG antibody response against OA, which was not influenced by their diets. In the offspring of the dams fed the D diet antigen exposure via the milk resulted in suppression of the serum antibody levels and DTH reaction against OA indicating induction of oral tolerance. Higher transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) mRNA levels in the draining lymph nodes suggested this to be mediated by regulatory T cells. In contrast, OA exposure of the dams fed the S diet did not result in a suppressed OA response of their offspring. Thus, the quality of FA ingested by the mother may have effects on the development of immunological tolerance to dietary antigens in the offspring. Our results might have importance for the understanding of the increase in allergy related to the Western type of diet.