The amount of thiolic antioxidant ingestion needed to improve several immune functions is higher in aged than in adult mice

Free Radic Res. 2002 Feb;36(2):119-26. doi: 10.1080/10715760290006439.


With aging there is an increase of oxidative stress due to an imbalance between the oxidant production and the antioxidant levels in favor of the former. Since immune cell functions are specially linked to reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, the oxidant/antioxidant balance is essential for these cells. Although low levels of antioxidants cause a decrease in immune function, very high levels of antioxidant compounds could show prooxidant effects. In the present work, we have studied the effect of diet supplementation, for 4 weeks, with two different doses of two thiolic antioxidants, namely thioproline (TP) and N-acetylcysteine (NAC), at 0.1% (w/w) and 0.3% (w/w, of each antioxidant) on the main immune system cells, i.e.: macrophages, lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells of adult (33+/-1 week old) and aged (75+/-1 week old) female Swiss mice. Two groups of animals, adult and aged mice, fed standard diet were used as controls. The results show that the ingestion of 0.1% doses of thiols improves, in the adult mice, several immune functions such as the chemotaxis capacity of both macrophages and lymphocytes, the phagocytosis of macrophages, the lymphoproliferative response to the mitogen Con A and the NK activity. Moreover, no change was observed in adherence capacity of immune cells, and superoxide production was decreased. By contrast, in aged mice the ingestion of these amounts of antioxidants did not change the immune functions studied with the exception of NK activity, which was stimulated. The ingestion of 0.3% of antioxidants by adult mice only increased some immune functions such as adherence and superoxide production, which are markers of oxidative stress. Other functions such as chemotaxis or lymphoproliferative response decreased. However, the ingestion of these very high amounts of thiols by aged animals increased the phagocytosis, the NK activity and specially the lymphoproliferative response to the mitogen, a function that is very depressed with aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / administration & dosage
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage*
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects
  • Chemotaxis, Leukocyte / drug effects
  • Diet
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Leukocytes / drug effects
  • Leukocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis / drug effects
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / administration & dosage*
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Superoxides / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / administration & dosage
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology
  • Thiazolidines


  • Antioxidants
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Thiazoles
  • Thiazolidines
  • Superoxides
  • thiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid
  • Acetylcysteine