Extracellular and immunological actions of zinc

  • Lothar Rink
  • Philip Gabriel


Zinc is an essential trace element for the immune system, but also very important in other organ systems. Every highly proliferating cell system is dependent on sufficient availability of zinc. During the last decades the influence of zinc on various cell systems have been investigated. Multiple effects of exogenously added zinc have been described in in vitro culture systems and in in vivo systems. However, most of these effects are so far poorly understood, and the dosages used in the in vitro systems are not comparable and sometimes unphysiologically high. Especially in the immune system a number of effects were described and over the last ten years we have come to understand some molecular mechanisms of zinc in this cell system. A zinc deficiency is accompanied by an immunodeficiency, resulting in an increased number of infections. However, the immune function is delicately regulated by zinc, since both increased and decreased zinc levels result in a disturbed immune function. Therefore, zinc supplementation must be accurately supervised. In this review, we discuss the activity of extracellular zinc in four sections. 1. The effect of zinc on different in vitro cell systems, including keratinocytes, osteocytes and leukocytes, and the concentrations of zinc needed for a specific cell response. 2. The modulation of the innate immune system in vitro and in vivo. 3. The role of zinc in the B cell response and antibody production. 4. Effects of zinc on the development and function of T cells.

Key words

cell biology immunology review trace elements zinc 



acquired immune deficiency syndrome


bovine serum albumin


cluster of differentiation


fetal calf serum


feline immune deficiency virus


human leukocyte antigen








interleukin 1 receptor associated kinase


killer cell inhibitory receptor




major histocompatibility complex


mixed lymphocyte culture


mixed lymphocyte reaction




Newcastle disease virus


natural killer


peripheral blood mononuclear cells


phorbol myristate acetate


polymorphonuclear neutrophils


reactive oxygen species


serum free


superoxide dismutase


serum-treated zymosan


T cell receptor


T helper


tumor necrosis factor


zinc regulated metal transporter (ZRT) iron regulated metal transporter (IRT) like protein


zinc transporter.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lothar Rink
    • 1
  • Philip Gabriel
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Immunology and Transfusion MedicineUniversity of Lübeck School of MedicineLübeckGermany

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