Ascorbic acid effects on the immune system and type -1 /type -2 cytokine balance in humans

Susan Yehle Ritter, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Vitamin C (ascorbic acid--AA) can have a substantial impact on human health by reducing the incidence and/or severity of coryza. Studies also suggest it has immunomodulatory functions in humans. Immune function is controlled by cytokines, such as type-1 cytokines (IFNγ) that promote antiviral immunity and type-2 cytokines (IL-4, IL-10) that promote humoral immunity. Knowing the mechanisms responsible for both antiviral immunity and type-1/type-2 cytokine balance, we sought to identify AA-induced alterations of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) in vivo and in vitro . We hypothesized that AA modulates the immune system, altering both number and function of PBMC. We first described the effect of 14 days of oral (1 gram) AA in healthy subjects. AA increased circulating natural killer (NK) cells, CD25+ and HLA-DR+ T cells, and PMA/ionomycin-stimulated intracellular IFNγ. We subsequently developed models for in vitro use. We determined that AA was toxic in vitro to T cells when used at doses found intracellularly but doses found in plasma from individuals taking 1gm/day AA were nontoxic. The model that most fully reproduced our in vivo intracellular cytokine findings used dehydroascorbic acid and buffers to deliver AA intracellularly. This model generated the largest increase in IFNγ at physiologic plasma concentrations. Previous studies demonstrate that chronic psychological stress is associated with a type-2 cytokine response. We hypothesized that vitamin C could prevent the type-2 cytokine shift associated with stress. In a study of medical students taking 1 g AA or placebo, a significant increase in IFNγ was seen intracellularly in CD4+ and CD8+ cells and in tetanus-stimulated cultures in the AA group only. We also observed increases in IFNγ/IL-4 and IFNγ/IL-10 ratios with AA supplementation, indicating a type-1 shift. Furthermore, we noted increased numbers of NK cells and activated T cells in the peripheral blood in the AA treated group only. Lastly, we investigated the role of the CD40L/CD40 and CD28/B7 costimulatory pathway in these cytokine alterations. AA did not have any effect on either pathway studied. Thus costimulatory pathways are not contributing to AA induced modulation of the type-1/type-2 immune balance.

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Recommended Citation

Ritter, Susan Yehle, "Ascorbic acid effects on the immune system and type -1 /type -2 cytokine balance in humans" (2005). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3193454.