Zinc deficiency is one of the leading risk factors for developing disease and yet we do not have a clear understanding of the mechanisms behind the increased susceptibility to infection. This review will examine the interrelationships among the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal stress axis, p56lck
, and T-cell maturation in both zinc deficiency and responses during zinc repletion. We will highlight differences between the adult mouse model (wasting malnutrition) and growing rat model (stunting malnutrition) of dietary zinc deficiency and discuss the use of various controls to separate out the effects of zinc deficiency from the associated malnutrition. Elevated serum corticosterone in both zinc deficient and pair-fed rats does not support the hypothesis that zinc deficiency per se
leads to corticosterone-induced apoptosis and lymphopenia. In fact, the zinc deficient rat does not have lymphopenia. Thymocytes from zinc deficient mice and rats have elevated levels of p56lck
, a signalling protein with a zinc clasp structure, but this does not appear to affect thymocyte maturation. However, post-thymic T-cell maturation appears to be altered based on the lower proportion of splenic late thymic emigrants in zinc deficient rats. Fewer new T-cells in the periphery could adversely affect the T-cell repertoire and contribute to immunodeficiency in zinc deficiency.