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Int J Immunopharmacol. 1995 Sep;17(9):703-18.

Reversibility of the thymic involution and of age-related peripheral immune dysfunctions by zinc supplementation in old mice.

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Gerontology Research Department, Italian National Research Centres on Ageing (INRCA), Ancona, Italy.


With advanced ageing the zinc pool undergoes progressive reduction as shown by the low zinc plasma levels and the negative crude zinc balance, both in humans and in rodents. It has been suggested that such zinc deficiency might be involved in many age-related immunological dysfunctions, including thymic failure. The relevance of zinc for good functioning of the entire immune system is, at present, well documented. In particular, zinc is required to confer biological activity to one of the best-known thymic peptides, thymulin, which is responsible for cell-mediated immunity. In deep zinc deficiencies, in humans and other animals, the low thymulin levels are due not to a primary failure of the thymus, but to a reduced peripheral saturation of thymic hormones by zinc ions. In aged mice both a reduced peripheral saturation of the hormone and a decreased production by the thymus were present. Oral zinc supplementation in old mice (22 months old) for 1 month induced a complete recovery of crude zinc balance from negative (-1.82) to positive values (+1.47), similar to those of young animals (+1.67). A full recovery of thymic functions with a regrowth of the organ and a partial restoration of the peripheral immune efficiency, as measured by mitogen responsiveness (PHA and ConA) and natural killer cell (NK) activity, were observed after zinc supplementation. These findings clearly pin-point for relevance of zinc for immune efficiency and suggest that the age-related thymic involution and peripheral immunological dysfunctions are not intrinsic and irreversible events but are largely dependent on the altered zinc pool.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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