Zinc activates a key protein on T cells needed to fight infections, concludes a new report in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
The study suggests that zinc may be pointing the way to new therapeutic targets for fighting infections.
Particularly, boffins from Florida found that zinc not only supports healthy immune function, but increases activation of the cells (T cells) responsible for destroying viruses and bacteria.
"It has been shown that zinc supplementation significantly reduces the duration and severity of childhood diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, and incidence of malaria in zinc-deficient children," said report co-author, Robert Cousins, Ph.D., who also is the director of the Center for Nutritional Sciences within the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida.
"Age-related declines in immune function have also been related to zinc deficiency in the elderly," the expert added.
To reach eth conclusion, scientists administered either a zinc supplement or a placebo to healthy volunteers to assess the effects of zinc on T cell activation. After isolating the T cells from the blood, scientists then simulated infection in laboratory conditions.
Results showed that T cells taken from the zinc-supplemented group had higher activation than those from the placebo group.
Specifically, cell activation stimulated the zinc transporter in T cells called "ZIP8," which transports stored zinc into the cell cytoplasm where it then alters the expression of a T cell protein in a way needed to fight infections.