The role of the thymus is vital for orchestration of T-cell development and maturation. With increasing age the thymus undergoes a process of involution which results in a reduction in thymic size, function and output. Until relatively recent it was not feasible to accurately measure the magnitude of age-related loss of thymic function. With the discovery of T-cell receptor excision circles (TRECs), which are the stable by-products of the newly generated T-cells, it is now possible to quantitatively measure the extent of thymic output. This review examines the available data on immune function and zinc deficiency and places them in the context of the aims of the ZINCAGE project which include the evaluation of the role played by zinc in maintaining thymic output in healthy elderly individuals.
KeywordsZinc Thymic output Ageing TREC Zinc deficiency T-cell development Immune system Recent thymic emigrants
Work in the authors laboratory is supported by BBSRC (grant 16279) and the EU Zincage project (contract no. FOOD-CT-2003-506850).
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