The important role of the apoptotic effects of zinc in the development of cancers

J Cell Biochem. 2009 Apr 1;106(5):750-7. doi: 10.1002/jcb.22049.


Zinc is a trace element that is essential for the normal function of cells. It is a cofactor for the structure and function of a wide range of cellular proteins including enzymes, transcription factors, and structural proteins. Recent studies have shown that zinc plays a role in the development of various cancers. Unfortunately no established common relationships of zinc with cancer development and progression have been identified. Zinc is known to have systemic effects such as regulation of the immune system as well as direct cellular effects resulting in regulation of gene expression, bioenergetics, metabolic pathways, signal transduction and cell invasion. Zinc is also reported to regulate cell proliferation and growth. In this review presentation we focus on the effects of zinc that are involved in the regulation of apoptosis in malignant cells. We selected the apoptotic effects of zinc because zinc is reported to both induce apoptosis in some cancers and to protect other cancer cells against apoptosis induced by other factors. The effects of zinc in the regulation of apoptosis appear to be cell type specific. More importantly the reported effects of zinc on cancer cells must be viewed from the perspective of the physiological regulation of zinc homeostasis. Thus one must be mindful of the experimental conditions under which zinc effects are investigated relative to the physiological and pathological conditions of cellular zinc distribution and concentrations that can exist in situ.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Zinc / physiology*


  • Zinc