Extracellular and immunological actions of zinc

Biometals. Sep-Dec 2001;14(3-4):367-83. doi: 10.1023/a:1012986225203.


Zinc is an essential trace element for the immune system, but also very important in other organ systems. Every highly proliferating cell system is dependent on sufficient availability of zinc. During the last decades the influence of zinc on various cell systems have been investigated. Multiple effects of exogenously added zinc have been described in in vitro culture systems and in in vivo systems. However, most of these effects are so far poorly understood, and the dosages used in the in vitro systems are not comparable and sometimes unphysiologically high. Especially in the immune system a number of effects were described and over the last ten years we have come to understand some molecular mechanisms of zinc in this cell system. A zinc deficiency is accompanied by an immunodeficiency, resulting in an increased number of infections. However, the immune function is delicately regulated by zinc, since both increased and decreased zinc levels result in a disturbed immune function. Therefore, zinc supplementation must be accurately supervised. In this review, we discuss the activity of extracellular zinc in four sections. 1. The effect of zinc on different in vitro cell systems, including keratinocytes, osteocytes and leukocytes, and the concentrations of zinc needed for a specific cell response. 2. The modulation of the innate immune system in vitro and in vivo. 3. The role of zinc in the B cell response and antibody production. 4. Effects of zinc on the development and function of T cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects
  • Keratinocytes / immunology
  • Osteocytes / drug effects
  • Osteocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Zinc / deficiency
  • Zinc / immunology*
  • Zinc / pharmacology*
  • Zinc / physiology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Zinc