Zinc Status Alters Alzheimer's Disease Progression through NLRP3-Dependent Inflammation

J Neurosci. 2021 Mar 31;41(13):3025-3038. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1980-20.2020. Epub 2021 Feb 17.


Alzheimer's disease is a devastating neurodegenerative disease with a dramatically increasing prevalence and no disease-modifying treatment. Inflammatory lifestyle factors increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Zinc deficiency is the most prevalent malnutrition in the world and may be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease potentially through enhanced inflammation, although evidence for this is limited. Here we provide epidemiological evidence suggesting that zinc supplementation was associated with reduced risk and slower cognitive decline, in people with Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment. Using the APP/PS1 mouse model of Alzheimer's disease fed a control (35 mg/kg zinc) or diet deficient in zinc (3 mg/kg zinc), we determined that zinc deficiency accelerated Alzheimer's-like memory deficits without modifying amyloid β plaque burden in the brains of male mice. The NLRP3-inflammasome complex is one of the most important regulators of inflammation, and we show here that zinc deficiency in immune cells, including microglia, potentiated NLRP3 responses to inflammatory stimuli in vitro, including amyloid oligomers, while zinc supplementation inhibited NLRP3 activation. APP/PS1 mice deficient in NLRP3 were protected against the accelerated cognitive decline with zinc deficiency. Collectively, this research suggests that zinc status is linked to inflammatory reactivity and may be modified in people to reduce the risk and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Alzheimer's disease is a common condition mostly affecting the elderly. Zinc deficiency is also a global problem, especially in the elderly and also in people with Alzheimer's disease. Zinc deficiency contributes to many clinical disorders, including immune dysfunction. Inflammation is known to contribute to the risk and progression of Alzheimer's disease; thus, we hypothesized that zinc status would affect Alzheimer's disease progression. Here we show that zinc supplementation reduced the prevalence and symptomatic decline in people with Alzheimer's disease. In an animal model of Alzheimer's disease, zinc deficiency worsened cognitive decline because of an enhancement in NLRP3-driven inflammation. Overall, our data suggest that zinc status affects Alzheimer's disease progression, and that zinc supplementation could slow the rate of cognitive decline.

Keywords: APP/PS1; Alzheimer's disease; NLRP3; inflammation; microglia; zinc.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / blood*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease / diet therapy
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / blood*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diet therapy
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Disease Progression*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Middle Aged
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein / metabolism*
  • Zinc / administration & dosage
  • Zinc / blood*
  • Zinc / deficiency


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • NLRP3 protein, human
  • Zinc