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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



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.

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L.R. is a member of the European COST action Zinc-Net.

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Correspondence to Lothar Rink.

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Maywald, M., Rink, L. 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. Eur J Nutr 56, 1859–1869 (2017).

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