NK and NKT cells in aging and longevity: Role of zinc and metallothioneins

Eugenio Mocchegiani, Robertina Giacconi, Catia Cipriano, Marco Malavolta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: During aging, dysregulated immune functions occur contributing to increased susceptibility to morbidity and mortality. However, these dysregulations are normally counterbalanced by continuous adaptation of the body to the deteriorative changes occurring over time. These adaptive changes well occur in healthy centenarians. Discussion: Both innate (natural) and adaptive (acquired) immune responses decline with advancing age. Natural killer (NK) and natural killer T (NKT) cell cytotoxicity, representing one of best models of innate immune response, decreases in aging as well as interferon-γ (IFN-γ) production by both activated types of cells. Both NK and NKT cell cytotoxicity and IFN-γ production increase in very old age with respect to normal aging, especially by NKT cells bearing TCRγδ. The role played by zinc and metallothioneins (MT) is crucial because this affects NK and NKT cell development, maturation, and functions. In particular, some MT polymorphisms are involved in maintaining innate immune response and intracellular zinc ion availability in aging with thus a role of MT genetic background to escape some age-related diseases with subsequent healthy aging and longevity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-425
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Clinical Immunology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • Adaptive immunity
  • Aging
  • Cytokine production
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Innate immunity
  • Longevity
  • Metallothioneins
  • NK cell
  • NKT cells
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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