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Too much salt affects phagocyte function

For many of us, adding salt to our diet is quite normal. We don’t really think about it. But in reality, it should. In addition to raising blood pressure, too much salt can significantly upset the energy balance of immune cells and cause them to malfunction.

In 2015, a research group led by Professor Dominique Müller of the Helmholtz Association (MDC) Maxdelbruck Molecular Medicine Center and the Center for Experimental Clinical Research (ECRC) found that elevated blood sodium levels are activations and precursors of macrophages. Ability to patrol monocytes.

But I didn’t know exactly what was happening inside the cell. “

Dr. Sabrina Geisberger, Institute for Medical Systems Biology, Berlin (BIMSB), MDC

She is the lead author of research on an international research team led by MDC scientists, along with colleagues from the University of Regensburg and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) / Hasselt University in Belgium. It was funded by the German Cardiovascular Institute (DZHK) and is currently published in the journal. circulation..

Salt destroys the respiratory chains of cells

In collaboration with biochemist and metabolomics expert Dr. Stefan Kempa of BIMSB, the researchers began by examining the metabolism of immune cells exposed to high salinity. The change appeared after only 3 hours. “It disrupts the respiratory chain, causing cells to produce less ATP and consume less oxygen,” explains Geis Burger. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is a universal fuel that powers all cells. It provides energy for the “chemical work” (synthesis of proteins and other molecules) required for muscle strength and metabolic regulation. ATP is produced in the mitochondria, the “power plants” of cells, using a complex series of biochemical reactions known as the respiratory chain. “Salt inhibits respiratory chain complex II very specifically.”

This has consequences. Lack of energy results in different monocyte maturation. “Phagocytes, whose mission is to identify and eliminate pathogens in the body, were able to more effectively repel infections, but they can also promote inflammation and are a cardiovascular risk. May increase, “explains Muller.

The effect of salt is reversible

Professor Markus Kleinewietfeld of Hasselt University and VIB, and Professor Jonathan Jantsch of the University of Regensburg were deeply involved in the study of human monocytes and macrophages. They were able to show that salts affect the function of human phagocytes as well.

ECRC researchers, jointly run by MDC and Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, conducted a study in which healthy male participants supplemented their regular diet with 6 grams of salt in tablets daily for 14 days. In another clinical study, researchers investigated a familiar scenario: eating pizza delivered from an Italian restaurant. Next, we analyzed monocytes in the participants’ blood. Research shows that the mitochondrial attenuating effect occurs not only after a long period of increased salt intake, but also after a single pizza. Data from the pizza experiment showed how long the effect lasted. Blood was drawn from participants after 3 and 8 hours, with little effect measured in the second sample.

“That’s a good thing. If it was a protracted obstruction, we were worried that the cells wouldn’t get enough energy for a long time,” says Muller. Therefore, mitochondrial activity is not permanently inhibited. That said, the ongoing risk of sodium to mitochondrial function when a person eats very salty foods several times a day cannot be ruled out, but it needs to be tested in the future. By the way, the pizza contained 10 grams of salt. Nutrition experts recommend that adults limit their daily intake to a maximum of 5-6 grams. The calculation includes the salt hidden in the processed food.

Small ions, big effects

“The basic finding of our study is that molecules as small as sodium ions can be very efficient at inhibiting enzymes that play important roles in the respiratory chain,” Kempa said. Says. “When these ions flood the mitochondria (and do this under a variety of physiological conditions), they regulate the central part of the electron transport chain.” Therefore, it is a very basic regulatory mechanism in cells. Seems to be.

The challenge here is to investigate whether salts can affect this mechanism in other types of cells as well. Kleinewietfeld believes this is very likely because mitochondria are not only present in immune cells. With the exception of red blood cells, they are present in every cell of the body. They are especially abundant in areas where much energy is consumed, such as muscle cells, neurons, receptors, and egg cells.

How different cell types regulate sodium influx into mitochondria is not yet fully understood. Nonetheless, this study confirms that excessive salt intake can adversely affect our health. “Of course, the first thing you think about is cardiovascular risk. But studies have shown that salts can affect immune cells in different ways. Such important cells. Prolonged disruption of the mechanism can have adverse effects-and can cause inflammatory or autoimmune diseases of blood vessels and joints, “says Kleinewietfeld.


Journal reference:

Geis Burger, S. , et al. (2021) Salt temporarily inhibits mitochondrial energy in mononuclear phagocytes. circulation.

Too much salt affects phagocyte function

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