Zinc stimulates glucose oxidation and glycemic control by modulating the insulin signaling pathway in human and mouse skeletal muscle cell lines

PLoS One. 2018 Jan 26;13(1):e0191727. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191727. eCollection 2018.


Zinc is a metal ion that is an essential cell signaling molecule. Highlighting this, zinc is an insulin mimetic, activating cellular pathways that regulate cellular homeostasis and physiological responses. Previous studies have linked dysfunctional zinc signaling with several disease states including cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The present study evaluated the insulin-like effects of zinc on cell signaling molecules including tyrosine, PRSA40, Akt, ERK1/2, SHP-2, GSK-3β and p38, and glucose oxidation in human and mouse skeletal muscle cells. Insulin and zinc independently led to the phosphorylation of these proteins over a 60-minute time course in both mouse and human skeletal muscle cells. Similarly, utilizing a protein array we identified that zinc could active the phosphorylation of p38, ERK1/2 and GSK-3B in human and ERK1/2 and GSK-3B in mouse skeletal muscle cells. Glucose oxidation assays were performed on skeletal muscle cells treated with insulin, zinc, or a combination of both and resulted in a significant induction of glucose consumption in mouse (p<0.01) and human (p<0.05) skeletal muscle cells when treated with zinc alone. Insulin, as expected, increased glucose oxidation in mouse (p<0.001) and human (0.001) skeletal muscle cells, however the combination of zinc and insulin did not augment glucose consumption in these cells. Zinc acts as an insulin mimetic, activating key molecules implicated in cell signaling to maintain glucose homeostasis in mouse and human skeletal muscle cells. Zinc is an important metal ion implicated in several biological processes. The role of zinc as an insulin memetic in activating key signaling molecules involved in glucose homeostasis could provide opportunities to utilize this ion therapeutically in treating disorders associated with dysfunctional zinc signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Signal Transduction
  • Zinc / pharmacology*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Glucose
  • Zinc

Grant support

This work was funded by Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust Grant, Tasmania, Australia. The funding allowed for the purchasing of reagents for this study.