AbstractIn the plasma phospholipids of a group of 50 young adults with atopic eczema, there was an elevation of cis-linoleic acid associated with a deficit of gamma-linolenic acid and of the prostaglandin precursors, dihomogammalinolenic acid and arachidonic acid. This suggests that atopics have a deficit in the function of the delta-6-desaturase enzyme which converts linoleic acid to gamma-linolenic acid. Carriers of cystic fibrosis tend to be phenotypically atopic, supporting previous suggestions that in homozygote cystic fibrosis patients the key defect may be in the delta-6-desaturase enzyme. Atopic patients may be exceptionally sensitive to side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents. They fail to flush in response to application of niacin compounds to the skin, a reaction mediated by prostaglandins. A deficit of prostaglandin precursors would explain both of these observations. That the observed biochemical deficit plays a causative role in the manifestations of atopy was indicated by the fact that in a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial, gamma-linolenic acid in the form of evening primrose oil (Efamol), partially corrected both the biochemical abnormalities and the clinical state.
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