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Met Ions Life Sci. 2011;8:157-85.

Metal ions affecting the immune system.

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Department of Environmental Immunology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ, Permoserstrasse 15, D-04318 Leipzig, Germany.


Certain heavy metals have been reported to seriously affect the immune system potentially resulting in a broad range of harmful health effects. Reported alterations in immune cell function include a variety of affected mechanisms. Thereby, depending on the particular metal, its concentration, route and duration of exposure, and biologic availability, the net outcome may be either immunosuppression or stimulation of immune cell activity. Since the key importance of the immune system is protection of the host against pathogenic agents, an impaired immune competence inevitably increases the susceptibility to invading pathogens. However, being aware that the immune system represents a sensitively regulated network of different cells, tissues, and soluble mediators it has to be stated that any form of dys-regulation may result in adverse health effects with overstimulation being as harmful as inhibition of functional activity. Chronic-inflammatory reactions, cancer development, hypersensitivity, allergic and autoimmune diseases are known consequences of persisting overstimulation. All these manifestations were already found to be related with heavy metal exposure.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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