Zinc-binding proteins (metallothionein and α-2 macroglobulin) and immunosenescence

Eugenio Mocchegiani, Laura Costarelli, Robertina Giacconi, Catia Cipriano, Elisa Muti, Marco Malavolta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Zinc is a relevant trace element for the efficiency of the entire immune system. The binding of zinc with some proteins, such as metallothioneins (MT) and α-2 macroglobulin (α-2M) is crucial for the immune efficiency during ageing and in age-related diseases, because these proteins may be involved in antagonistic pleiotropic effects. Indeed, the presence of chronic inflammation during ageing, generally, induces overexpression of these proteins that, due to their original biological function in fighting stressor agents, continuously sequester intracellular zinc. As a consequence, a low zinc ion availability may appear in aged organisms leading to impairments of the immune response at thymic and extrathymic levels with the risk of the appearance of age-related diseases. Therefore, MT and α-2M turn from protective in "young-adult age" to harmful agents in "ageing" following the basic assumption of an evolutionary theory of ageing, named the "antagonistic pleiotropy", which suggests that a trade off between early beneficial effects and late negative outcomes can occur at a genetic and molecular level. On the other hand, some polymorphisms of MT (MT2A) and α-2M have been associated with atherosclerosis or Alzheimer disease, respectively. Physiological zinc supplementation in elderly restores the thymic endocrine activity and innate immune response (NK cell cytotoxicity) and increases the survival rate in old mice. Therefore, zinc supplementation is useful to achieve health longevity because these zinc-binding proteins may regain their original protective task against oxidative damage with, thus, a beneficial impact on immune response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1094-1107
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Gerontology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006


  • α-2 Macroglobulin
  • Genetic marker
  • Immunosenescence
  • Metallothionein
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Medicine(all)


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