The inhibition of growth is a cardinal symptom of zinc deficiency. In animals fed a zinc-inadequate diet, both food intake and growth are reduced within 4-5 d. Despite the concomitant reduction in food intake and growth, reduced energy intake is not the limiting factor in growth, because force-feeding a zinc-inadequate diet to animals fails to maintain growth. Hence, food intake and growth appear to be regulated by zinc through independent, although well coordinated, mechanisms. Despite the long-term study of zinc metabolism, the first limiting role of zinc in cell proliferation remains undefined. Zinc participates in the regulation of cell proliferation in several ways; it is essential to enzyme systems that influence cell division and proliferation. Removing zinc from the extracellular milieu results in decreased activity of deoxythymidine kinase and reduced levels of adenosine(5')tetraphosphate(5')-adenosine. Hence, zinc may directly regulate DNA synthesis through these systems. Zinc also influences hormonal regulation of cell division. Specifically, the pituitary growth hormone (GH)-insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) axis is responsive to zinc status. Both increased and decreased circulating concentrations of GH have been observed in zinc deficiency, although circulating IGF-I concentrations are consistently decreased. However, growth failure is not reversed by maintaining either GH or IGF-I levels through exogenous administration, which suggests the defect occurs in hormone signaling. Zinc appears to be essential for IGF-I induction of cell proliferation; the site of regulation is postreceptor binding. Overall, the evidence suggests that reduced zinc availability affects membrane signaling systems and intracellular second messengers that coordinate cell proliferation in response to IGF-I.