The role of zinc in caspase activation and apoptotic cell death

  • Ai Q. Truong-Tran
  • Joanne Carter
  • Richard E. Ruffin
  • Peter D. Zalewski


In addition to its diverse role in many physiological systems, zinc (Zn) has now been shown to be an important regulator of apoptosis. The purpose of this review is to integrate previously published knowledge on Zn and apoptosis with current attempts to elucidate the mechanisms of action of this biometal. This paper begins with an introduction to apoptosis and then briefly reviews the evidence relating Zn to apoptosis. The major focus of this review is the mechanistic actions of Zn and its candidate intracellular targets. In particular, we examine the cytoprotective functions of Zn which suppress major pathways leading to apoptosis, as well as the more direct influence of Zn on the apoptotic regulators, especially the caspase family of enzymes. These two mechanisms are closely related since a decline in intracellular Zn below a critical threshold level may not only trigger pathways leading to caspase activation but may also facilitate the process by which the caspases are activated. Studies by our laboratory in airway epithelial cells show that Zn is co-localized with the precursor form of caspase-3, mitochondria and microtubules, suggesting this Zn is critically placed to control apoptosis. Further understanding the different pools of Zn and how they interact with apoptotic pathways should have importance in human disease.

Key words

apoptosis caspase ROS sulfhydryl zinc 



Airway epithelial cells


Copper zinc superoxide dismutase


boc-Asp-Glu-Val-Asp 7-amino-4-trifluoromethyl coumarin


Hydrogen peroxide




NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester


Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase


Reactive oxygen species






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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ai Q. Truong-Tran
    • 1
  • Joanne Carter
    • 1
  • Richard E. Ruffin
    • 1
  • Peter D. Zalewski
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MedicineUniversity of Adelaide, The Queen Elizabeth HospitalWoodvilleAustralia

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