In a new study, researchers have uncovered a strong link between dietary zinc intake and protection against Streptococcus pneumoniae, the primary bacterial cause of pneumonia.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Melbourne and other institutes.
Globally, it is estimated that nearly two billion people suffer from zinc deficiency, but why this increases susceptibility to bacterial infection has not been well understood—until now.
In the study, the team used state-of-the-art imaging techniques to reveal how the immune system uses zinc for protection during an attack by Streptococcus pneumoniae.
They compared infections in mice fed with different levels of zinc.
They found that mice with lower zinc intake succumbed to infection up to three times faster because their immune systems had insufficient zinc to aid in killing the bacteria.
The team says dietary zinc is linked to immune function and resistance to bacterial infection.
The work shows that zinc is mobilized to sites of infection where it stresses the invading bacteria and helps specific immune cells kill Streptococcus pneumoniae.
This work also translated its findings by showing that specific human immune cells could use zinc to enhance their killing of invading Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Pneumonia accounts for more than one million deaths every year, with the greatest health burden in countries where zinc deficiency frequently remains a major social challenge.
The findings highlight the importance of ensuring dietary zinc sufficiency as part of a strategy to control the burden of pneumococcal disease in conjunction with vaccination and other methods.
The lead author of the study is the University of Melbourne Associate Professor Christopher McDevitt.
The study is published in PLOS Pathogens.
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