New insights into the role of zinc in the respiratory epithelium

Immunol Cell Biol. 2001 Apr;79(2):170-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1711.2001.00986.x.


Over the past 30 years, many researchers have demonstrated the critical role of zinc (Zn), a group IIb metal, in diverse physiological processes, such as growth and development, maintenance and priming of the immune system, and tissue repair. This review will discuss aspects of Zn physiology and its possible beneficial role in the respiratory epithelium. Here we have detailed the mechanisms by which Zn diversely acts as: (i) an anti-oxidant; (ii) an organelle stabilizer; (iii) an anti-apopototic agent; (iv) an important cofactor for DNA synthesis; (v) a vital component for wound healing; and (vi) an anti-inflammatory agent. This paper will also review studies from the authors' laboratory concerning the first attempts to map Zn in the respiratory epithelium and to elucidate its role in regulating caspase-3 activated apoptosis. We propose that Zn, being a major dietary anti-oxidant has a protective role for the airway epithelium against oxyradicals and other noxious agents. Zn may therefore have important implications for asthma and other inflammatory diseases where the physical barrier is vulnerable and compromised.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Mucosa / immunology*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / injuries
  • Respiratory System / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / physiopathology
  • Zinc / deficiency
  • Zinc / metabolism
  • Zinc / physiology*


  • Caspases
  • Zinc