Zinc metabolism and homeostasis: The application of tracer techniques to human zinc physiology

  • Nancy F. Krebs
  • K. Michael Hambidge


Tracer kinetic techniques based on zinc stable isotopes have a vital role in advancing knowledge of human zinc physiology and homeostasis. These techniques have demonstrated the complexity of zinc metabolism, and have been critical to estimating the size and interrelationships of those pools of zinc that exchange rapidly with zinc in plasma and which are likely to be especially important for zinc dependent biology. This paper presents findings from recent research linking a steady state compartmental model with non-steady state post-prandial sampling from the intestine, utilizing a combination of intestinal intubation/perfusion and stable isotope tracer kinetic techniques. The gastrointestinal tract has a central role in maintaining whole body zinc homeostasis. While the fractional absorption of zinc from a meal depends on the quantity of exogenous zinc and on such dietary factors as phytic acid, the fractional absorption does not appear to be dependent on the size of the rapidly exchanging pool of the host. In contrast, the quantity of endogenous zinc excreted via the intestine is positively correlated with both the amount of absorbed zinc and the zinc ‘status’ of the host, and thus this process has an equally critical role in maintaining zinc homeostasis. The observed alterations in zinc metabolism in some disease states can be understood in the context of known homeostatic processes. In other conditions, however, such alterations as inflammation-associated hyperzincuria and zinc redistribution, the links between homeostatic perturbation and cellular biology are yet to be explained. Thus the challenge remains for research at the whole body level to carefully characterize zinc distribution and exchange under diverse circumstances, while research at the cellular level must elucidate the regulatory processes and the factors to which they respond.

Key words

absorption compartmental modeling endogenous zinc excretion stable isotopes zinc homeostasis 



exchangeable zinc pool


Down Syndrome.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy F. Krebs
    • 1
  • K. Michael Hambidge
    • 1
  1. 1.Section of Nutrition, Department of PediatricsUniversity of Colorado School of MedicineDenverUSA

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