Background: Zinc supplementation can modulate immunity through inhibition of NF-κB, a transcription factor that controls many immune response genes. Thus, we sought to examine the mechanism by which zinc supplementation tempers the response to a common allergen and determine its effect on allergic airway inflammation.
Methods: Mice were injected with zinc gluconate prior to German cockroach (GC) feces (frass) exposure and airway inflammation was assessed. Primary bone marrow-derived neutrophils and DMSO-differentiated HL-60 cells were used to assess the role of zinc gluconate on tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α expression. NF-κB:DNA binding and IKK activity were assessed by EMSA and in vitro kinase assay. Protein levels of A20, RIP1 and TRAF6 were assessed by Western blot analysis. Establishment of allergic airway inflammation with GC frass was followed by administration of zinc gluconate. Airway hyperresponsiveness, serum IgE levels, eosinophilia and Th2 cytokine production were assessed.
Results: Administration of zinc gluconate prior to allergen exposure resulted in significantly decreased neutrophil infiltration and TNFα cytokine release into the airways. This correlated with decreased NF-κB activity in the whole lung. Treatment with zinc gluconate significantly decreased GC frass-mediated TNFα production from bone-marrow derived neutrophils and HL-60 cells. We confirmed zinc-mediated decreases in NF-κB:DNA binding and IKK activity in HL-60 cells. A20, a natural inhibitor of NF-κB and a zinc-fingered protein, is a potential target of zinc. Zinc treatment did not alter A20 levels in the short term, but resulted in the degradation of RIP1, an important upstream activator of IKK. TRAF6 protein levels were unaffected. To determine the application for zinc as a therapeutic for asthma, we administered zinc following the establishment of allergic airway inflammation in a murine model. Zinc supplementation decreased airway hyperresponsiveness and serum IgE levels, but had no effect on Th2 cytokine expression.
Conclusions: This report suggests that the mechanism by which zinc supplementation alters NF-κB activity is via the alteration of A20 activity. In addition, this study provides evidence that supplementation of zinc to asthmatics may alter airway reactivity and serum IgE levels, suggesting zinc supplementation as a potential treatment for asthmatics.