Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A new study by the Cornall group provides new insights into the importance of zinc in human health.

© NIAID (CC BY 2.0)

Led by Consuelo Anzilotti, a clinical immunologist in Richard Cornall’s group in the Nuffield Department of Medicine and MRC Human Immunology Unit, the project published today in Nature Immunology  brought together scientists and clinicians from Oxford, the University of Newcastle, Durham, Imperial College, the Netherlands and the USA.

 

Important nutrient

Dietary zinc deficiency is recognised as a worldwide problem. It is associated with skin disease, increased susceptibility to infections and poor immune function. The World Health Organisation now recommends zinc supplementation to individuals with diarrhoea in resource-poor settings. 

The remarkable importance of this nutrient is due to its important function in the structure of more than 3,000 proteins, facilitated by the remarkable stability of its Zn2+ ion. However, how partial zinc deficiency causes specific forms of human disease remains a mystery. 

 

A role in immunity

Lack of zinc in the diet has been previously associated with defects in the immune system, particularly in the development of B cells. However, molecular mechanisms by which Zinc might influence the immune system in these situations remains unknown.

This new study makes the first clear link between Zinc and the human immune system. The team examined the DNA of patients from five unrelated families that were affected by unknown B cell defects.  Symptoms included loss of B cells, low levels of antibodies and skin disease. They found that all patients were affected by mutations in the gene ZIP7, which encodes for a cell membrane transporter responsible for transporting Zinc (Zn2+) from the endoplasmic reticulum inside of the cells into the cytoplasm.

The researchers showed that low levels of cytoplasmic Zn2+ in ZIP7 deficient B cells were associated with reduced cell signalling during crucial stages in B cell development. The biochemical data suggests that the normal level of Zn2+ ions may be required to inhibit phosphatases which act as the ‘off-switch’ in cell signalling.

This project brought together scientists across the medical science division in immunology, cancer biology, cell biology, imaging and genetics to build and study models of the human disease. The tools developed open the field to studying how zinc regulates other cellular processes and how zinc operates more widely in health and disease.

Similar stories

Professor Graham Ogg elected Academy of Medical Sciences Fellow

Fellows are selected for their exceptional contributions to the advancement of medical science through innovative research discoveries and translating scientific developments into benefits for patients and the wider society.

New study maps the development of the human intestine

Researchers in the Simmons lab chart the embryonic origins and appearance of diverse intestinal cellular compartments, with important implications for intestinal diseases.

MRC HIU appoints new Director

We are pleased to announce that Professor Alison Simmons has been appointed as the new Director of the MRC Human Immunology Unit.