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A new study has found that T cells can only efficiently eliminate abnormal or infected cells in a magnesium-rich environment and that magnesium is necessary for the function of T cell surface protein, LFA-1.

Conducted by researchers from the University of Basel and the University of Cambridge, the study was published in Cell.

LFA-1 acts as a docking site, which plays a key role in the activation of T cells, according to the study.

“However, in the inactive state, this docking site is in a bent conformation and thus cannot efficiently bind to infected or abnormal cells,” said Christoph Hess, MD, PhD. “This is where magnesium comes into play. If magnesium is present in sufficient quantities in the vicinity of the T cells, it binds to LFA-1 and ensures that it remains in an extended – and therefore active – position.”

Researchers said that because magnesium is critical for the functioning of T cells, this may be an important discovery for modern cancer treatments. Typically, these therapies aim to mobilize the immune system, specifically, cytotoxic T cells, to fight cancer cells. However, in experimental models, researchers were able to demonstrate the immune response of T cells against cancer cells was strengthened by an increase in magnesium concentration in tumors. 

According to the study, low serum magnesium levels are associated with worse outcomes in cancer immunotherapy. 

Though researchers cannot conclude regular intake of magnesium impacts the risk for developing cancer, they plan to conduct future studies to test the clinical effect of magnesium as a catalyst for the immune system.

Integrative practitioners treating cancer patients or those with a history of cancer in their family may look to magnesium as an important part of their care plan.  

Magnesium level plays critical role in tackling cancer cells


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