In order to confirm the hypothesis of the immunomodulating action of anti-oxidants (bringing back altered immune function to more optimum values), the possibility that anti-oxidants may be useful in two experimental models of altered immune function has been studied. The first is a pathological model, that is, lethal murine endotoxic shock caused by an LPS injection of 100 mg/kg, in which the lymphocytes show increased adherence and depressed chemotaxis.
The injection of N-acetylcysteine (150 mg/kg), which increased both functions in control animals, decreased adherence and increased chemotaxis in mice with endotoxic shock. The second is a physiological model; aged human subjects (70 5-year-old men) who, in their largest segment of population ('standard' group) showed an increased lymphocyte adherence and decreased lymphoproliferative response to mitogens compared with younger adults.
The ingestion of vitamin E (200 mg daily for 3 months in this standard group) lowered adherence and stimulated lymphoproliferation. However, a smaller segment of the human population tested showed 'non-standard' values in these lymphocyte functions, that is, very low adherence and very high proliferation. In those subjects, vitamin E showed the opposite effects, namely adherence increase and depressed lymphoproliferation.
In both age groups of men, these functions reached adult levels after vitamin E ingestion. These data suggest that anti-oxidants preserve adequate function of immune cells against homeostatic disturbances such as those caused by endotoxic shock and ageing.