Although the essentiality of zinc for plants and animals has been known for many decades, the essentiality of zinc for humans was recognized only 40 years ago in the Middle East. The zinc-deficient patients had severe immune dysfunctions, inasmuch as they died of intercurrent infections by the time they were 25 years of age. In our studies in an experimental human model of zinc deficiency, we documented decreased serum testosterone level, oligospermia, severe immune dysfunctions mainly affecting T helper cells, hyperammonemia, neurosensory disorders, and decreased lean body mass. It appears that zinc deficiency is prevalent in the developing world and as many as two billion subjects may be growth retarded due to zinc deficiency. Besides growth retardation and immune dysfunctions, cognitive impairment due to zinc deficiency also has been reported recently. Our studies in the cell culture models showed that the activation of many zinc-dependent enzymes and transcription factors were adversely affected due to zinc deficiency. In HUT-78 (T helper 0 [Th(0)] cell line), we showed that a decrease in gene expression of interleukin-2 (IL-2) and IL-2 receptor alpha(IL-2Ralpha) were due to decreased activation of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) in zinc deficient cells. Decreased NF-kappaB activation in HUT-78 due to zinc deficiency was due to decreased binding of NF-kappaB to DNA, decreased level of NF-kappaB p105 (the precursor of NF-kappaB p50) mRNA, decreased kappaB inhibitory protein (IkappaB) phosphorylation, and decreased Ikappa kappa. These effects of zinc were cell specific. Zinc also is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory actions. The therapeutic roles of zinc in acute infantile diarrhea, acrodermatitis enteropathica, prevention of blindness in patients with age-related macular degeneration, and treatment of common cold with zinc have been reported. In HL-60 cells (promyelocytic leukemia cell line), zinc enhances the up-regulation of A20 mRNA, which, via TRAF pathway, decreases NF-kappaB activation, leading to decreased gene expression and generation of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), IL-1beta, and IL-8. We have reported recently that in both young adults and elderly subjects, zinc supplementation decreased oxidative stress markers and generation of inflammatory cytokines.

Prasad AS
Mol. Med. 2008 May-Jun;14(5-6):353-7
PMID: 18385818