Zinc, metallothioneins and immunosenescence

E. Mocchegiani, M. Malavolta, L. Costarelli, R. Giacconi, C. Cipriano, F. Piacenza, S. Tesei, A. Basso, S. Pierpaoli, F. Lattanzio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ageing is an inevitable biological process with gradual and spontaneous biochemical and physiological changes and increased susceptibility to diseases. The nutritional factor, zinc, may remodel these changes with subsequent healthy ageing, because zinc improves the inflammatory/immune response as shown by in vitro and in vivo studies. The intracellular zinc homeostasis is regulated by buffering metallothioneins (MT) and zinc transporters (ZnT and ZIP families) that mediate the intracellular zinc signalling assigning to zinc a role of second messenger. In ageing, the intracellular zinc homeostasis is altered, because high MT are unable to release zinc and some zinc transporters deputed to zinc influx (ZIP family) are defective leading to low intracellular zinc content for the immune efficiency. Physiological zinc supplementation in the elderly improves these functions. However, the choice of old subjects for zinc supplementation has to be performed in relation to the specific genetic background of MT and IL-6, because the latter is involved both in MTmRNA and in intracellular zinc homeostasis. Old subjects carrying GG genotypes (C-carriers) in the IL-6-174G/C locus display high IL-6, low intracellular zinc content, impaired innate immunity and enhanced MT. Old subjects carrying GC and CC genotypes (C+carriers) display satisfactory intracellular zinc content, adequate innate immunity and are more prone to reach longevity. Zinc supplementation in old C-carriers restores natural killer cell cytotoxicity and zinc status. The genetic variations of the IL-6174G/C locus when associated with those of the MT1A+647A/C locus are useful tools for the choice of old people for zinc supplementation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-299
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


  • Ageing
  • Immune response
  • Inflammation
  • Longevity
  • Metallothioneins
  • Zinc signalling
  • Zinc supplementation
  • Zinc transporters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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