Zinc (Zn) nutritional importance has been known for a long time, but in the last decades its importance in immune modulation has arisen. This review aims at describing the mechanisms involved in the regulation of Zn homeostasis and their effects on the immune response focusing on those which are implicated in the physiopathology of rheumatoid arthritis. Zn functions as a modulator of the immune response through its availability, which is tightly regulated by several transporters and regulators. When this mechanism is disturbed, Zn availability is reduced, altering survival, proliferation and differentiation of the cells of different organs and systems and, in particular, cells of the immune system. Zn deficiency affects cells involved in both innate and adaptive immunity at the survival, proliferation and maturation levels. These cells include monocytes, polymorphonuclear-, natural killer-, T-, and B-cells. T cell functions and the balance between the different T helper cell subsets are particularly susceptible to changes in Zn status. While acute Zn deficiency causes a decrease in innate and adaptive immunity, chronic deficiency increases inflammation. During chronic deficiency, the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines increases, influencing the outcome of a large number of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Keywords: Cytokines; Immune diseases; Inflammation; Metallothioneins; Rheumatoid arthritis; Zinc.
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