Dietary Zinc and the Brain

  • Mohammad Tariqur Rahman


Zinc (Zn), after iron, is the second most abundant essential element in different organs of the human body. The amount of Zn to be absorbed and hence utilized or metabolized in different tissues depends on the total Zn content of the diet and its bioavailability, specially its solubility in the intestinal lumen. In the brain, additional control on the absorption, distribution, and homeostasis of Zn is maintained by the blood brain barrier system which generally is not easily disrupted by dietary Zn. In the brain, [Zn] is highest in the hippocampus but this can be decreased significantly in dietary Zn deficiency. Zinc homeostasis in the brain is maintained through the regulated expression of proteins for Zn import, export, and storage. Among them, Zn2+ transporters, Zn2+ importing proteins, and Zn2+ buffering proteins, such as the metallothioneins, bind cytosolic free Zn2+ and mediate the complex intraneuronal cytosolic Zn2+ homeostasis. In addition to its important roles as catalytic, co-catalytic, and structural component of many proteins, Zn is also important as an intracellular signaling factor in the regulation of cell proliferation. As an extracellular signaling factor, Zn is involved in synaptic neurotransmission. In neuronal cells, Zn deficiency induces oxidative stress, which consequently can induce decreased cell proliferation and increased apoptosis through activation and inactivation of several Zn finger transcription factors. Acute human dietary deficiency of Zn is associated with symptoms such as anorexia, smell and taste dysfunction, emotional and cognitive disturbances, and loss of coordination and other brain functions, including learning and memory defects. The intracellular Zn2+ availability is associated with decline in brain functions and impaired cognitive performances in old age. This chapter will elaborate on the physiological importance of dietary Zn in the brain with special reference to the mechanism of Zn homeostasis, the role of dietary Zn in brain development, and the consequences of an Zn excess and/or Zn deficient condition in brain pathology.


Ventricular Zone Brain Capillary Endothelial Cell Porcine Brain Capillary Endothelial Cell Taste Dysfunction Myoinositol Hexaphosphate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Alzheimer’s disease


α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid


Adenosine tri/di phosphate


Blood brain barrier


Cerebrospinal fluid


Central nervous system


Extracellular fluid


Endoplasmic reticulum


Mitogen activated protein kinase




Recommended daily allowance


Upper intake level


Voltage-gated Ca2+ channels


(Sub)Ventricular zone


Zn2+ importing proteins


Concentration of Zn


Zn transporter



Author is grateful to Fawzia Malik and Noor Lide Abu Kassim for their all out support during the manuscript preparation. Special thanks to Rahela Zaman for helping with the drawing of the figures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biomedical Science, Kulliyyah of ScienceInternational Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)KuantanMalaysia

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