Zinc or copper deficiency-induced impaired inflammatory response to brain trauma may be caused by the concomitant metallothionein changes

M. Penkowa, M. Giralt, P. S. Thomsen, J. Carrasco, Juan Hidalgo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


The role of zinc- and copper-deficient diets on the inflammatory response to traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been evaluated in adult rats. As expected, zinc deficiency decreased food intake and body weight gain, and the latter effect was higher than that observed in pair-fed rats. In noninjured brains, zinc deficiency only affected significantly lectin (increasing) and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase (Cu,Zn-SOD) (decreasing) immunoreactivities (irs). In injured brains, a profound gliosis was observed in the area surrounding the lesion, along with severe damage to neurons as indicated by neuron specific enolase (NSE) ir, and the number of cells undergoing apoptosis (measured by TUNEL) was dramatically increased. Zinc deficiency significantly altered brain response to TBI, potentiating the microgliosis and reducing the astrogliosis, while increasing the number of apoptotic cells. Metallothioneins (MTs) are important zinc- and copper-binding proteins in the CNS, which could influence significantly the brain response to TBI because of their putative roles in metal homeostasis and antioxidant defenses. MT-I+II expression was dramatically increased by TBI, and this response was significantly blunted by zinc deficiency. The MT-III isoform was moderately increased by both TBI and zinc deficiency. TBI strongly increased oxidative stress levels, as demonstrated by malondialdehyde (MDA), protein tyrosine nitration (NITT), and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) levels irs, all of which were potentiated by zinc deficiency. Further analysis revealed unbalanced expression of prooxidant and antioxidant proteins besides MT, since the levels of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and Cu,Zn-SOD were increased and decreased, respectively, by zinc deficiency. All these effects were attributable to zinc deficiency, since pair-fed rats did not differ from normally fed rats. In general, copper deficiency caused a similar pattern of responses, albeit more moderate. Results obtained in mice with a null mutation for the MT-I+II isoforms strongly suggest that most of the effects observed in the rat brain after zinc and copper deficiencies are attributable to the concomitant changes in the MT expression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-463
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001


  • Apoptosis
  • Cu,Zn-SOD
  • Gliosis
  • MDA
  • MT-KO
  • NF-κB
  • NITT
  • Oxidative stress
  • iNOS


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