The deprivation of zinc, caused by malnutrition or as a consequence of aging or disease, strongly affects immune cell functions, causing higher frequency of infections. Among other effects, an increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and proinflammatory cytokines has been observed in zinc-deficient patients, but the underlying mechanisms were unknown. The aim of the current study was to define mechanisms explaining the increase in proinflammatory cytokine production during zinc deficiency, focusing on the role of epigenetic and redox-mediated mechanisms. Interleukin (IL)-1β and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α production was increased in HL-60 cells under zinc deficiency. Analyses of the chromatin structure demonstrated that the elevated cytokine production was due to increased accessibilities of IL-1β and TNFα promoters in zinc-deficient cells. Moreover, the level of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-oxidase (NADPH) oxidase-produced ROS was elevated under zinc deficiency, subsequently leading to p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) phosphorylation. The increased activation of p38 MAPK appeared to be necessary for posttranscriptional processes in IL-1β and TNFα synthesis. These data demonstrate that IL-1β and TNFα expression under zinc deficiency is regulated via epigenetic and redox-mediated mechanisms. Assuming an important role of zinc in proinflammatory cytokine regulation, this should encourage research in the use of zinc supplementation for treatment of inflammatory diseases.
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