European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 56, Issue 5, pp 1859–1869 | Cite as

Zinc supplementation induces CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ antigen-specific regulatory T cells and suppresses IFN-γ production by upregulation of Foxp3 and KLF-10 and downregulation of IRF-1

Original Contribution



The essential trace element zinc plays a fundamental role in immune function and regulation since its deficiency is associated with autoimmunity, allergies, and transplant rejection. Thus, we investigated the influence of zinc supplementation on the Th1-driven alloreaction in mixed lymphocyte cultures (MLC), on generation of antigen-specific T cells, and analyzed underlying molecular mechanisms.


Cell proliferation and pro-inflammatory cytokine production were monitored by [3H]-thymidine proliferation assay and ELISA, respectively. Analysis of surface and intracellular T cell marker was performed by flow cytometry. Western blotting and mRNA analysis were used for Foxp3, KLF-10, and IRF-1 expression.


Zinc supplementation on antigen-specific T cells in physiological doses (50 µM) provokes a significant amelioration of cell proliferation and pro-inflammatory cytokine production after reactivation compared to untreated controls. Zinc administration on MLC results in an increased induction and stabilization of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ and CD4+CD25+CTLA-4+ T cells (p < 0.05). The effect is based on zinc-induced upregulation of Foxp3 and KLF-10 and downregulation of IRF-1. However, in resting lymphocytes zinc increases IRF-1.


In summary, zinc is capable of ameliorating the allogeneic immune reaction by enhancement of antigen-specific iTreg cells due to modulation of essential molecular targets: Foxp3, KLF-10, and IRF-1. Thus, zinc can be seen as an auspicious tool for inducing tolerance in adverse immune reactions.


Zinc Regulatory T cells Mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC) Foxp3 IRF-1 KLF-10 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Medicine, Institute of ImmunologyRWTH Aachen University, University HospitalAachenGermany

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