Zinc is a trace element nutrient that is essential for life. This mineral serves as a cofactor for enzymes that are involved in critical biochemical processes and it plays many structural roles as well. At the cellular level, zinc is tightly regulated and disruption of zinc homeostasis results in serious physiological or pathological issues. Despite the high demand for zinc in cells, free or labile zinc must be kept at very low levels. In humans, two major zinc transporter families, the SLC30 (ZnT) family and SLC39 (ZIP) family control cellular zinc homeostasis. This review will focus on the SLC39 transporters. SLC39 transporters primarily serve to pass zinc into the cytoplasm, and play critical roles in maintaining cellular zinc homeostasis. These proteins are also significant at the organismal level, and studies are revealing their link to human diseases. Therefore, we will discuss the function, structure, physiology, and pathology of SLC39 transporters.
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