Impact of Fish Oil on the HIV-Infected Aging Intestine

Research Team

Barbara A. Swanson, Principal Investigator, Rush University College of Nursing
Joyce Keithley, Co-Investigator, Rush University College of Nursing
Jun Sun, Co-Principal Investigator, Department of Biochemistry, Rush University Medical Center
Toyin Adeyemi, Co-Investigator, CORE, Rush University Medical Center

Award Period


Funding Source

Rush University College of Nursing Research Fund


African Americans represent a disproportionate number of HIV/AIDS cases among person >50 years old, with infection rates 12 times higher than among whites.1 One cohort study of older, largely minority HIV-infected (HIV+) persons found that 34% had metabolic syndrome and 50% had a Framingham Cardiac Risk score > 10%.2 HIV+ older adults of all races show a premature onset of other age-associated co-morbidities.3 Co-morbidities are linked to persistent inflammation and persistently elevated serum levels of proinflammatory cytokines that mimic an aging phenotype known as “inflamm-aging.”4 One postulated mechanism for inflamm-aging is HIV-induced disruption of intestinal epithelial integrity with subsequent translocation of gut microflora into the systemic circulation.4,5 Intestinal epithelial cells are consistently exposed to bacteria, a process which plays a key role in development, renewal, and immunity. HIV infection induces depletion of gut Th17 CD4+ T cells which maintain intestinal epithelial integrity and their depletion may allow translocation of gut microflora into the systemic circulation leading to endotoxemia and chronic inflammation.5 Therefore, treatments that protect intestinal mucosa have the potential to reduce the adverse effects associated with HIV-related chronic inflammation. Animal and in vitro studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish oils stimulate regeneration of intestinal mucosa damaged by methotrexate,6 IL-4,7 and experimental ulcerative colitis.8 However, no studies have been conducted on the effects of fish oil for favorably modulating gut barrier function in HIV+ persons. Based on the literature and our expertise, we hypothesize that fish oil is an effective treatment option for repairing HIV-induced intestinal injury and reducing systemic inflammation. We have NIH funding to conduct a clinical trial of fish oil to modulate parameters of systemic inflammation and immune senescence in HIV+ African American older adults (P20MD006886). In this study, we propose to explore whether gut permeability is modulated by fish oil supplementation.

For more information about this project, please contact:

Barbara Swanson
Phone: 312.942.8977