In a new study from the University of Basel and elsewhere, researchers found the level of magnesium in the blood is an important factor in the immune system’s ability to tackle pathogens and cancer cells.
They reported that T cells need a sufficient quantity of magnesium in order to operate efficiently. Their findings may have important implications for cancer patients.
Magnesium deficiency is associated with a variety of diseases, such as infections and cancer.
Previous studies have shown that cancerous growths spread faster in the bodies of mice when the animals received a low-magnesium diet—and that their defense against flu viruses was also impaired.
In this study, the team discovered that T cells can eliminate abnormal or infected cells efficiently only in a magnesium-rich environment.
Specifically, magnesium is important for the function of a T cell surface protein called LFA-1.
The fact that magnesium is essential for the functioning of T cells may be a highly significant finding for modern cancer immunotherapies.
These therapies aim to mobilize the immune system—in particular cytotoxic T cells—to fight cancer cells.
The researchers were able to show that the immune response of T cells against cancer cells was strengthened by an increase in the local magnesium concentration in tumors.
Using data from previously completed studies of cancer patients, the researchers were able to show that immunotherapies were less effective in patients with insufficient levels of magnesium in their blood.
Whether a regular intake of magnesium impacts the risk of developing cancer is a question that cannot be answered based on the existing data.
As a next step, the researchers are planning prospective studies to test the clinical effect of magnesium as a catalyst for the immune system.
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The study is published in Cell. One author of the study is Professor Christoph Hess.
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