Mild zinc deficiency in humans negatively affects IL-2 production resulting in declined percentages of cytolytic T cells and decreased NK cell lytic activity, which enhances the susceptibility to infections and malignancies. T-cell activation is critically regulated by zinc and the normal physiological zinc level in T-cells slightly lies below the optimal concentration for T-cell functions. A further reduction in zinc level leads to T-cell dysfunction and autoreactivity, whereas high zinc concentrations (100 μM) were shown to inhibit interleukin-1 (IL-1)-induced IL-1 receptor kinase (IRAK) activation. In this study, we investigated the molecular mechanism by which zinc regulates the IL-1β-induced IL-2 expression in T-cells. Zinc supplementation to zinc-deficient T-cells increased intracellular zinc levels by altering the expression of zinc transporters, particularly Zip10 and Zip12. A zinc signal was observed in the murine T-cell line EL-4 6.1 after 1 h of stimulation with IL-1β, measured by specific zinc sensors FluoZin-3 and ZinPyr-1. This signal is required for the phosphorylation of MAPK p38 and NF-κB subunit p65, which triggers the transcription of IL-2 and strongly increases its production. These results indicate that short-term zinc supplementation to zinc-deficient T-cells leads to a fast rise in zinc levels which subsequently enhance cytokine production. In conclusion, low and excessive zinc levels might be equally problematic for zinc-deficient subjects, and stabilized zinc levels seem to be essential to avoid negative concentration-dependent zinc effects on T-cell activation.
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