Several immunologic features were analyzed in mice on a zinc-deficient diet [Zn(-)], in mice pair-fed a diet containing zinc [Zn(+)], in mice fed a Zn(+) diet ad lib, and in mice fed laboratory chow ad lib. When placed on a Zn(-)diet, 6- to 8-week-old A/Jax, C57BL/Ks, and CBA/H mice showed loss of body weight, low lymphoid tissue weight, and profound involution of the thymus within 4-8 weeks after initiation of the regimen. Approximately 50% of the mice on the Zn(-)diet developed severe acrodermatitis enteropathica (lesions on tail and paws) and diarrhea. Pair-fed mice on the Zn(+)diet did not show any of these symptoms. Mice on the Zn(-)diet showed the following immune deficiencies: (i) depressed plaque-forming cells against sheep erythrocytes after in vivo immunization; (ii) depressed T killer cell activity against EL-4 tumor cells after in vivo immunization; and (iii) low natural killer cell activity. However, antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity against chicken erythrocytes was normal in the mice on the Zn(-)diet. Deficiency of T killer cell activity was not observed when immunization with EL-4 allogeneic lymphoma cells was carried out in vitro. Progessive loss of relative and absolute number of Thy 1.2+ cells and a proportionate relative increase in cells bearing Fc receptors was seen in spleen and lymph nodes of Zn(-) animals. It appears that zinc is an essential element for maintenance of normal T cell and other immuno functions in vivo.
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