Wspólnotowy Serwis Informacyjny Badan i Rozwoju - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - ZINCAGE (Nutritional zinc, oxidative stress and immunosenescence: biochemical, genetic and lifestyle implications for healthy ageing)

The human body becomes less able to fight diseases through the ageing process. Zinc is a critical dietary mineral that might have a positive effect on cellular defects associated with ageing if supplemented in the form of tablets. However, excessive zinc supply can be toxic, and moreover, some groups of people might have sufficient mineral quantities even at an old age. Therefore, the ZINCAGE project aimed to study the behaviour of zinc and its related physiology in the immune cells of elderly Europeans with the objective of generating advice on who could really benefit from its supplementation.

Different approaches were considered at genetic, biochemical, molecular and cellular levels to examine the mineral's metabolism. Its loss appeared to provoke a general derangement of systems, with subsequent weakness in responding to oxidative stress induced by external damaging agents that allowed the appearance of age-related degenerative diseases. However, the loss of this trace element was not equal in all individuals and, at the same time, its deficiency was strictly correlated to free zinc ion bioavailability. The response to oxidative stress appeared to be connected to proteins involved in the distribution and metabolism of zinc ions. The correct function of these proteins led to a satisfactory element of bioavailability with subsequent good functioning of the immune system; the proteins were therefore pivotal for reaching health longevity.
Thus, zinc supplementation was foreseen exclusively for aged people with a metabolism defect at a genetic level, with the aim being to avoid the element's toxicity and enhance food safety.

The project was structured in six distinct, yet interrelated, work packages (WPs) that constituted specific and complementary subprojects and involved the participation of several partners. Firstly, the vital processes for an effective immune system were analysed, along with the circulation and processing of zinc within the organisms. The activity of the element in lymphocytes was also tested, both before and after dietary supplementation. Particular focus was placed on the dietary habits of northern and southern Europeans. Samples of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) were analysed to identify the genetic properties that interacted with zinc. A simple genetic screening method to identify people at risk of zinc deficiency, and consequently, the appearance of age-related diseases, was also undertaken. All tests were carried out on people who were ageing satisfactorily as well as on individuals that suffered severe age-related degeneration. It should be noted that the project participants represented numerous European countries, in order to take into consideration different dietary and lifestyle habits.

The project significantly advanced scientific understanding of the role of zinc in the ageing immune system, thus increasing European competitiveness in the field. Moreover, it formed the basis for advice on who should consume zinc supplements to ward off the frailties of old age.

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Via G. Birarelli, 8
I-60121 ANCONA
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