Zinc and immunity

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Nutritional deficiency of zinc is widespread throughout the developing countries and a conditioned deficiency of zinc is known to occur in many diseased states. Zinc is known to play an important role in the immune system and zinc deficient subjects may experience increased susceptibility to a variety of pathogens. We have studied the effects of a mild deficiency of zinc on T cells in an experimental model of human zinc deficiency. We showed that T cell functions were affected adversely even when the deficiency of zinc was mild in humans. Characteristically during zinc deficiency, the serum thymulin activity (a thymic hormone) was decreased which was restored following zinc supplementation. Our studies also showed that zinc deficiency caused an imbalance between TH1 and TH2 functions. The production of IFN-g, IL-2, TNF-a (products of TH1 cells) were decreased, whereas the production of IL-4, IL-6 and IL-10 (products of TH2) were not affected during zinc deficiency. T cell subpopulation studies revealed that the CD4+ CD45RA+ to CD4+ CD45RO+ ratio was decreased as a result of zinc deficiency, suggesting that zinc may be required for the regeneration of new CD4+ T cells. We further documented that zinc deficiency decreased NK cell lytic activity and caused a decrease in the percentage of CD8+ CD73+ T cells which are known to be predominantly precursors of cytotoxic T cells. In a suitable cell culture model our studies revealed that the gene expression of a DNA synthesizing enzyme TK was affected adversely which resulted in delayed cell cycle and decreased cell growth. The above immunological consequences of zinc deficiency may be responsible for decreased cell mediated immune functions in zinc deficient subjects.

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