Nutritional deficiency of zinc is widespread throughout developing countries, and zinc-deficient persons have increased susceptibility to a variety of pathogens. Zinc deficiency in an experimental human model caused an imbalance between Th1 and Th2 functions. Production of interferon-gamma and interleukin (IL)-2 (products of Th1) were decreased, whereas production of IL-4, IL-6, and IL-10 (products of Th2) were not affected during zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency decreased natural killer cell lytic activity and percentage of precursors of cytolytic T cells. In HuT-78, a Th0 cell line, zinc deficiency decreased gene expression of thymidine kinase, delayed cell cycle, and decreased cell growth. Gene expression of IL-2 and IL-2 receptors (both alpha and beta) and binding of NF-kappaB to DNA were decreased by zinc deficiency in HuT-78. Decreased production of IL-2 in zinc deficiency may be due to decreased activation of NF-kappaB and subsequent decreased gene expression of IL-2 and IL-2 receptors.