Critical Role of Zinc as Either an Antioxidant or a Prooxidant in Cellular Systems

Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018 Mar 20:2018:9156285. doi: 10.1155/2018/9156285. eCollection 2018.


Zinc is recognized as an essential trace metal required for human health; its deficiency is strongly associated with neuronal and immune system defects. Although zinc is a redox-inert metal, it functions as an antioxidant through the catalytic action of copper/zinc-superoxide dismutase, stabilization of membrane structure, protection of the protein sulfhydryl groups, and upregulation of the expression of metallothionein, which possesses a metal-binding capacity and also exhibits antioxidant functions. In addition, zinc suppresses anti-inflammatory responses that would otherwise augment oxidative stress. The actions of zinc are not straightforward owing to its numerous roles in biological systems. It has been shown that zinc deficiency and zinc excess cause cellular oxidative stress. To gain insights into the dual action of zinc, as either an antioxidant or a prooxidant, and the conditions under which each role is performed, the oxidative stresses that occur in zinc deficiency and zinc overload in conjunction with the intracellular regulation of free zinc are summarized. Additionally, the regulatory role of zinc in mitochondrial homeostasis and its impact on oxidative stress are briefly addressed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Chelating Agents / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Chelating Agents
  • Zinc