Dietary zinc helps protect against pneumonia
Australian researchers have uncovered a crucial link between dietary zinc intake and protection against Streptococcus pneumoniae, the primary bacterial cause of pneumonia.
Pneumonia accounts for more than one million deaths every year, with the greatest health burden in countries where zinc deficiency remains a major social challenge — but until now, researchers had not understood why this increases susceptibility to bacterial infection.
“Dietary zinc is associated with immune function and resistance to bacterial infection, but how it provides protection has remained elusive,” said Dr Bart Eijkelkamp, from the Research Centre for Infectious Diseases at the University of Adelaide.
Dr Eijkelkamp is part of an interdisciplinary team — led by University of Melbourne Associate Professor Christopher McDevitt, a laboratory head at the Doherty Institute — that is using state-of-the-art imaging techniques to reveal how the immune system uses zinc as an antimicrobial for protection during attack by Streptococcus pneumoniae.
The team compared infections in mice fed with different levels of zinc and 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.
“Our work shows that zinc is mobilised to sites of infection where it stresses the invading bacteria and helps specific immune cells kill Streptococcus pneumoniae,” Dr Eijkelkamp said.
Published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the work also translated its findings by showing that specific human immune cells could use zinc to enhance their killing of invading Streptococcus pneumoniae.
The findings thus highlight “the importance of ensuring dietary zinc sufficiency as part of any population-wide strategy to control the burden of pneumococcal disease in conjunction with vaccination and other antimicrobial approaches”, Assoc Prof McDevitt said.
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