The effect of dietary zinc on intestinal copper absorption

Am J Clin Nutr. 1981 Sep;34(9):1670-5. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/34.9.1670.


Everted duodenal segments, tied into sacs, taken from animals fed different amounts of zinc were used to investigate the antagonistic effect of dietary zinc on copper absorption. The intestinal segments taken from animals fed low amounts of zinc transferred more copper from a nutrient medium across the mucosal cells than did intestines from rats fed high levels of zinc. The mucosal cells from animals fed low amounts of zinc retained less copper than the cells from animals fed high amounts of the element. This retained copper was bound to a protein fraction having a molecular weight similar to that of metallothionein. The data suggest that zinc exerts its antagonistic effect by inducing the synthesis of a copper-binding ligand, probably a thionein, in the mucosal cells which sequesters copper from the nutrient medium, making it unavailable for serosal transfer. This may be a possible mechanism by which dietary zinc decreases copper absorption and leads to a decreased copper status.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / analysis
  • Copper / blood
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Diet
  • Duodenum / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects*
  • Liver / analysis
  • Male
  • Metallothionein / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Zinc / blood
  • Zinc / pharmacology*


  • Copper
  • Metallothionein
  • Zinc