Mammary gland zinc metabolism: regulation and dysregulation

Genes Nutr. 2009 Jun;4(2):83-94. doi: 10.1007/s12263-009-0119-4. Epub 2009 Apr 2.


Zinc (Zn) is required for numerous metabolic processes serving both a structural and catalytic role. The mammary gland has a unique Zn requirement resulting from the need to also transfer an extraordinary amount of Zn into milk (~0.5-1 mg Zn/day) during lactation. Impairments in this process can result in severe Zn deficiency in the nursing offspring which has adverse consequences with respect to growth and development. Moreover, dysregulated mammary gland Zn metabolism has recently been implicated in breast cancer transition, progression and metastasis, thus there is a critical need to understand the molecular mechanisms which underlie these observations. Tight regulation of Zn transporting mechanisms is critical to providing an extraordinary amount of Zn for secretion into milk as well as maintaining optimal cellular function. Expression of numerous Zn transporters has been detected in mammary gland or cultured breast cells; however, understanding the molecular mechanisms which regulate mammary Zn metabolism as well as the etiology and downstream consequences resulting from their dysregulation is largely not understood. In this review, we will summarize the current understanding of the regulation of mammary gland Zn metabolism and its regulation by reproductive hormones, with a discussion of the dysregulation of this process in breast cancer.