1. Fish oils are rich in the long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), eicosapentaenoic (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic (22:6n-3) acids. Linseed oil and green plant tissues are rich in the precursor fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3). Most vegetable oils are rich in the n-6 PUFA linoleic acid (18:2n-6), the precursor of arachidonic acid (20:4n-6). 2. Arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoids such as prostaglandin E2 are pro-inflammatory and regulate the functions of cells of the immune system. Consumption of fish oils leads to replacement of arachidonic acid in cell membranes by eicosapentaenoic acid. This changes the amount and alters the balance of eicosanoids produced. 3. Consumption of fish oils diminishes lymphocyte proliferation, T-cell-mediated cytotoxicity, natural killer cell activity, macrophage-mediated cytotoxicity, monocyte and neutrophil chemotaxis, major histocompatibility class II expression and antigen presentation, production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (interleukins 1 and 6, tumour necrosis factor) and adhesion molecule expression. 4. Feeding laboratory animals fish oil reduces acute and chronic inflammatory responses, improves survival to endotoxin and in models of autoimmunity and prolongs the survival of grafted organs. 5. Feeding fish oil reduces cell-mediated immune responses. 6. Fish oil supplementation may be clinically useful in acute and chronic inflammatory conditions and following transplantation. 7. n-3 PUFAs may exert their effects by modulating signal transduction and/or gene expression within inflammatory and immune cells.