Background: Rumen microbes metabolize 22:6n-3. However, pathways of 22:6n-3 biohydrogenation and ruminal microbes involved in this process are not known. In this study, we examine the ability of the well-known rumen biohydrogenating bacteria, Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens D1 and Butyrivibrio proteoclasticus P18, to hydrogenate 22:6n-3. Results: Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens D1 failed to hydrogenate 22:6n-3 (0.5 to 32 mu g/mL) in growth medium containing autoclaved ruminal fluid that either had or had not been centrifuged. Growth of B. fibrisolvens was delayed at the higher 22:6n-3 concentrations; however, total volatile fatty acid production was not affected. Butyrivibrio proteoclasticus P18 hydrogenated 22:6n-3 in growth medium containing autoclaved ruminal fluid that either had or had not been centrifuged. Biohydrogenation only started when volatile fatty acid production or growth of B. proteoclasticus P18 had been initiated, which might suggest that growth or metabolic activity is a prerequisite for the metabolism of 22:6n-3. The amount of 22:6n-3 hydrogenated was quantitatively recovered in several intermediate products eluting on the gas chromatogram between 22:6n-3 and 22:0. Formation of neither 22:0 nor 22:6 conjugated fatty acids was observed during 22:6n-3 metabolism. Extensive metabolism was observed at lower initial concentrations of 22:6n-3 (5, 10 and 20 mu g/mL) whereas increasing concentrations of 22:6n-3 (40 and 80 mu g/mL) inhibited its metabolism. Stearic acid formation (18:0) from 18:2n-6 by B. proteoclasticus P18 was retarded, but not completely inhibited, in the presence of 22:6n-3 and this effect was dependent on 22:6n-3 concentration. Conclusions: For the first time, our study identified ruminal bacteria with the ability to hydrogenate 22:6n-3. The gradual appearance of intermediates indicates that biohydrogenation of 22:6n-3 by B. proteoclasticus P18 occurs by pathways of isomerization and hydrogenation resulting in a variety of unsaturated 22 carbon fatty acids. During the simultaneous presence of 18:2n-6 and 22:6n-3, B. proteoclasticus P18 initiated 22:6n-3 metabolism before converting 18:1 isomers into 18:0.