Normal individuals aged over 50 and most young Down's syndrome (DS) subjects had markedly reduced concentrations of circulating thymic hormone (facteur thymique sérique, FTS). Plasma from these two groups contained factors capable of inhibiting biological activity of FTS in vitro. Addition of zinc sulphate to plasma samples from DS subjects or the older individuals induced concentrations of FTS comparable to those observed in young healthy people and completely prevented FTS-inhibitory activity. These findings suggest that biologically active circulating thymic hormone is bound to zinc. The decline in thymic hormone activity in older individuals and DS subjects may be the result of changes in the mechanism of zinc-dependent activation of FTS molecules, which are probably associated with marginal zinc deficiency rather than with a primary failure of the thymus. Addition of zinc salt to plasma samples unmasks the presence of inactive FTS molecules.
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