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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Apr;1100:111-22.

Zinc and inflammatory/immune response in aging.

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Immunosenescence Unit, Department of Pathobiology and Biomedical Methodologies, Palermo University, Corso Tukory 211, 90134 Palermo, Italy.


Life-long antigenic burden determines a condition of chronic inflammation, with increased lymphocyte activation and proinflammatory cytokine production. A large number of studies have documented changes in zinc metabolism in experimental animal models of acute and chronic inflammation and in human chronic inflammatory conditions. In particular, modification of zinc plasma concentration, as well as intracellular disturbance of antioxidant intracellular pathways, has been found in aging and in some age-related diseases. Zinc deficiency is diffused in aged individuals in order to avoid meat and other high zinc content foods due to fear of cholesterol. Rather, they increase the consumption of refined wheat products that lack zinc and other critical nutrients as a consequence of the refining process. On the other hand, plasma zinc concentration is influenced by proinflammatory cytokines (IL-6 and TNF-alpha) and by metallothioneins (MT) homeostasis, which is in turn affected by proinflammatory cytokines. MT increase in aging and chronic inflammation allowing a continuous sequestration of intracellular zinc with subsequent low zinc ion availability against stressor agents and inflammation. This phenomenon leads to an impaired inflammatory/immune response in the elderly. A major target of zinc is NF-kappaB, a transcription factor critical for the expression of proinflammatory cytokines whose production is regulated by extra- and intracellular activating and inhibiting factors interacting with the regulatory elements on cytokine genes. Effects of zinc on translocation of NF-kappaB have been attributed to the suppression of phosphorylation and degradation of the inhibitory proteins (A20) that normally sequester it in the cytoplasm. Moreover, this factor and A20 are regulated by specific genes involved in inflammation and by intracellular zinc ion availability. So, it is not so surprising that zinc deficiency is constantly observed in chronic inflammation, such as in old individuals. On the other hand, cytokine genes are highly polymorphic and some of these polymorphisms are associated with atherosclerosis and diabetes type 2. Therefore, zinc turnover, via MT homeostasis, in individuals genetically predisposed to a dysregulation of the inflammatory/immune response may play a crucial role in causing possible adverse events with the appearance of age-related diseases.

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