Copper transport

Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 May;67(5 Suppl):965S-971S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/67.5.965S.


In adult humans, the net absorption of dietary copper is approximately 1 mg/d. Dietary copper joins some 4-5 mg of endogenous copper flowing into the gastrointestinal tract through various digestive juices. Most of this copper returns to the circulation and to the tissues (including liver) that formed them. Much lower amounts of copper flow into and out of other major parts of the body (including heart, skeletal muscle, and brain). Newly absorbed copper is transported to body tissues in two phases, borne primarily by plasma protein carriers (albumin, transcuprein, and ceruloplasmin). In the first phase, copper goes from the intestine to the liver and kidney; in the second phase, copper usually goes from the liver (and perhaps also the kidney) to other organs. Ceruloplasmin plays a role in this second phase. Alternatively, liver copper can also exit via the bile, and in a form that is less easily reabsorbed. Copper is also present in and transported by other body fluids, including those bathing the brain and central nervous system and surrounding the fetus in the amniotic sac. Ceruloplasmin is present in these fluids and may also be involved in copper transport there. The concentrations of copper and ceruloplasmin in milk vary with lactational stage. Parallel changes occur in ceruloplasmin messenger RNA expression in the mammary gland (as determined in pigs). Copper in milk ceruloplasmin appears to be particularly available for absorption, at least in rats.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amniotic Fluid / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Ceruloplasmin / analysis
  • Ceruloplasmin / physiology*
  • Copper / pharmacokinetics*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Copper
  • Ceruloplasmin