Zinc deficiency-induced iron accumulation, a consequence of alterations in iron regulatory protein-binding activity, iron transporters, and iron storage proteins

J Biol Chem. 2008 Feb 22;283(8):5168-77. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M709043200. Epub 2007 Dec 11.


One consequence of zinc deficiency is an elevation in cell and tissue iron concentrations. To examine the mechanism(s) underlying this phenomenon, Swiss 3T3 cells were cultured in zinc-deficient (D, 0.5 microM zinc), zinc-supplemented (S, 50 microM zinc), or control (C, 4 microM zinc) media. After 24 h of culture, cells in the D group were characterized by a 50% decrease in intracellular zinc and a 35% increase in intracellular iron relative to cells in the S and C groups. The increase in cellular iron was associated with increased transferrin receptor 1 protein and mRNA levels and increased ferritin light chain expression. The divalent metal transporter 1(+)iron-responsive element isoform mRNA was decreased during zinc deficiency-induced iron accumulation. Examination of zinc-deficient cells revealed increased binding of iron regulatory protein 2 (IRP2) and decreased binding of IRP1 to a consensus iron-responsive element. The increased IRP2-binding activity in zinc-deficient cells coincided with an increased level of IRP2 protein. The accumulation of IRP2 protein was independent of zinc deficiency-induced intracellular nitric oxide production but was attenuated by the addition of the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine or ascorbate to the D medium. These data support the concept that zinc deficiency can result in alterations in iron transporter, storage, and regulatory proteins, which facilitate iron accumulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • 3T3 Cells
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Apoferritins / biosynthesis
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Regulatory Protein 1 / biosynthesis
  • Iron Regulatory Protein 2 / biosynthesis
  • Mice
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Transferrin / biosynthesis
  • Response Elements / physiology
  • Zinc / deficiency*


  • Antioxidants
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Apoferritins
  • Iron
  • Iron Regulatory Protein 1
  • Iron Regulatory Protein 2
  • Zinc
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Acetylcysteine