Tracing the elements – Diagnostic and medical importance of trace elements
Trace elements are present in small amounts in living cells, yet their effects can be manifold if under- or overrepresented as they are actively involved in central biochemical pathways and physiological processes. Due to their limited abundance, the researcher is faced with the problem of specific detection, quantitative analysis, and speciation. This Special Issue provides a glimpse on the fascinating aspects of trace elements, ranging from research in model systems to identifying biomarkers, from endogenous regulation of their metabolism to the medical importance of trace element deficiency or toxicity in plants, animals or humans. This collection reflects the various contributions presented at the 29th Annual Meeting of the German Trace Element Society (GMS).
A review of the role of essential trace elements in health and disease
Elements are present in different forms in nature, and these elements are very essential for the body to perform different functions. Trace elements are very important for cell functions at biological, chemical and molecular levels. These elements mediate vital biochemical reactions by acting as cofactors for many enzymes, as well as act as centers for stabilizing structures of enzymes and proteins. Some of the trace elements control important biological processes by binding to molecules on the receptor site of the cell membrane or by alternating the structure of membrane to prevent entry of specific molecules into the cell. The functions of trace elements have a dual role. In normal levels, they are important for stabilization of the cellular structures, but in deficiency states may stimulate alternate pathways and cause diseases. These trace elements have clinical significance and these can be estimated using a different analytical method.
Melinda A. Beck, Department of Pediatrics and Nutrition, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8180
A number of trace elements have been shown to be important for adequate functioning of the immune system, including copper, zinc, and selenium. Both deficiencies and luxus levels of trace elements can influence various parameters of the immune system, such as antibody responses, cell-mediated immunity, and natural killer (NK) cell activity.
A functional immune system is required for the ability of the host to prevent or limit infections. This is particularly important for soldiers in the field, where exposure to novel infectious agents, as well as working in less-than-optimal hygienic conditions, is a real possibility. Clearly, the optimum level of trace elements and other nutrients for immune function needs to be included in any military diet.
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