Zinc is an important trace element found in most body tissues as bivalent cations and has essential roles in human health. The insulin-like effect of zinc cations raises the possibility that they inhibit glycogen synthase kinase-3beta (GSK-3beta), a serine/threonine protein kinase linked with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Here we show that physiological concentrations of zinc ions directly inhibit GSK-3beta in vitro in an uncompetitive manner. Treatment of HEK-293 cells with zinc enhanced glycogen synthase activity and increased the intracellular levels of beta-catenin, providing evidence for inhibition of endogenous GSK-3beta by zinc. Moreover, zinc ions enhanced glucose uptake 3-fold in isolated mouse adipocytes, an increase similar to activation with saturated concentrations of insulin. We propose that the in vivo insulin-mimetic actions of zinc are mediated via direct inhibition of endogenous GSK-3beta.
(c) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).