Influence of dietary zinc and copper on digestive enzyme activity and intestinal morphology in weaned pigs

J Anim Sci. 2006 Dec;84(12):3310-20. doi: 10.2527/jas.2005-701.


The current study was conducted to investigate the effects of high dietary concentrations of Zn as zinc oxide and Cu as copper sulfate on the activity of digestive enzymes in the pancreas and the intestinal mucosa, intestinal morphology, and mucin histochemistry in pigs after weaning. Thirty-two pigs were weaned at 4 wk of age. The pigs were fed standard weaning diets supplemented with Zn (100 or 2,500 ppm) and Cu (0 or 175 ppm) in a 2 x 2 factorial arrangement of treatments for a 14-d period. In pancreatic tissue, the activity of amylase, carboxypeptidase A, chymotrypsin, trypsin, and lipase increased (P < 0.01) in pigs fed 2,500 ppm of Zn, whereas the activity of carboxypeptidase B and carboxylester hydrolase was unaffected. Copper had no effect on the activity of pancreatic enzymes. In small intestinal contents, the total activity of amylase and carboxypeptidase A was greater in pigs fed 100 ppm of Zn (P < 0.05), whereas feeding 2,500 ppm of Zn increased the chymotrypsin activity (P < 0.001). The remaining enzymes were unaffected by dietary Zn concentration. The villi were longer in the cranial small intestine (P < 0.001) in pigs fed 100 ppm of Zn than in pigs fed 2,500 ppm of Zn, but otherwise there were no clear effects of Zn and Cu supplementation on intestinal morphology. In the cranial small intestine, the activity of maltase (P < 0.001), sucrase (P < 0.001), and lactase was greater in pigs fed 100 ppm of Zn, even though there was a Zn x Cu interaction (P < 0.05) in lactase activity. In the middle and caudal small intestine, no clear differences between dietary treatments were observed. The activity of gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase in the intestinal mucosa was not affected by dietary Zn or Cu. In pigs fed 100 ppm of Zn, the activity of aminopeptidase N was greater in the caudal small intestine, but dietary Zn or Cu had no effect on aminopeptidase N in the cranial and middle small intestine. No effect of dietary Zn or Cu supplementation was found on carbohydrate histochemistry in the caudal small intestine, whereas high dietary Zn increased the area of neutral, acidic, and sulfomucins in the cecum (P < 0.01) and in the colon (P < 0.001). In summary, high dietary Zn increased the activity of several enzymes in the pancreatic tissue and increased the mucin staining area in the large intestine, whereas Cu had no clear effect on these variables. However, no definite answers were found as to how the growth promoting and diarrhea reducing effects of excess dietary Zn are exerted.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Copper / pharmacology*
  • Diet
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Intestines / anatomy & histology*
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / enzymology*
  • Male
  • Pancreas / drug effects
  • Pancreas / enzymology
  • Random Allocation
  • Swine / anatomy & histology*
  • Swine / metabolism*
  • Trace Elements
  • Zinc / pharmacology*


  • Trace Elements
  • Copper
  • Zinc