Zinc is an essential micronutrient required for many cellular processes, especially for the normal development and function of the immune system. Zinc homeostasis and signaling are critical in immune activation, and an imbalance in zinc homeostasis is associated with the development of chronic diseases. Zinc deficiency causes significant impairment in both adaptive and innate immune responses, and promotes systemic inflammation. The elderly are a population particularly susceptible to zinc deficiency. National surveys indicate that a significant portion of the aged population has inadequate zinc intake, and a decline in zinc status is observed with age. There are remarkable similarities between the hallmarks of zinc deficiency and immunological dysfunction in aged individuals. Both zinc deficiency and the aging process are characterized by impaired immune responses and systemic low grade chronic inflammation. It has been hypothesized that age-related zinc deficiency may be an important factor contributing to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation during the aging process. In this review, we discuss the effects of zinc status on aging, potential molecular and epigenetic mechanisms contributing to age-related decline in zinc status, and the role of zinc in age-related immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation.
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