A common genetic variant in zinc transporter ZnT2 (Thr288Ser) is present in women with low milk volume and alters lysosome function and cell energetics

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2020 Jun 1;318(6):C1166-C1177. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00383.2019. Epub 2020 Apr 22.


Suboptimal lactation is a common, yet underappreciated cause for early cessation of breastfeeding. Molecular regulation of mammary gland function is critical to the process lactation; however, physiological factors underlying insufficient milk production are poorly understood. The zinc (Zn) transporter ZnT2 is critical for regulation of mammary gland development and maturation during puberty, lactation, and postlactation gland remodeling. Numerous genetic variants in the gene encoding ZnT2 (SLC30A2) are associated with low milk Zn concentration and result in severe Zn deficiency in exclusively breastfed infants. However, the functional impacts of genetic variation in ZnT2 on key mammary epithelial cell functions have not yet been systematically explored at the cellular level. Here we determined a common mutation in SLC30A2/ZnT2 substituting serine for threonine at amino acid 288 (Thr288Ser) was found in 20% of women producing low milk volume (n = 2/10) but was not identified in women producing normal volume. Exploration of cellular consequences in vitro using phosphomimetics showed the serine substitution promoted preferential phosphorylation of ZnT2, driving localization to the lysosome and increasing lysosome biogenesis and acidification. While the substitution did not initiate lysosome-mediated cell death, cellular ATP levels were significantly reduced. Our findings demonstrate the Thr288Ser mutation in SLC30A2/ZnT2 impairs critical functions of mammary epithelial cells and suggest a role for genetic variation in the regulation of milk production and lactation performance.

Keywords: ZnT2; lysosome; mutation; suboptimal lactation zinc.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Energy Metabolism* / genetics
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lactation / genetics
  • Lactation / metabolism*
  • Lysosomes / genetics
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Mammary Glands, Human / metabolism*
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*
  • Mutation*
  • Organelle Biogenesis
  • Phosphorylation
  • Young Adult


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • SLC30A2 protein, human
  • Adenosine Triphosphate