British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Molecular Nutrition

Supplemental zinc reduced intestinal permeability by enhancing occludin and zonula occludens protein-1 (ZO-1) expression in weaning piglets

Bingkun Zhanga1 and Yuming Guoa1 c1

a1 State Key Laboratory of Animal Nutrition, College of Animal Science and Technology, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100193, People's Republic of China


The present study was carried out to evaluate the pharmacological effect of Zn in diarrhoea in relation to intestinal permeability. Seventy-two weaning piglets, aged 24 d, were allocated to three dietary treatments: (1) control diet without supplemental Zn; (2) control diet supplemented with 2000 mg Zn/kg from ZnO; (3) control diet supplemented with 2000 mg Zn/kg from tetrabasic zinc chloride (TBZC). At the end of a 14 d experiment period, piglets were weighed, feed consumption was measured, and mucosal barrier function was determined using the lactulose/mannitol test. Expression of mucosal tight junction protein was measured at RNA and protein level. Inclusion of TBZC or ZnO in the diet significantly increased average daily gain (P < 0·01) and average daily feed intake (P < 0·05), while leading to reduced feed conversion ratio (P < 0·05) and faecal scores (P < 0·01). TBZC reduced urinary lactulose:mannitol ratios of weaning piglets (P < 0·05), while dietary supplementation with ZnO tended to reduce urinary lactulose:mannitol ratios (P = 0·061). ZnO or TBZC significantly enhanced the mRNA and protein expression of occludin (P < 0·05) and zonula occludens protein-1 (ZO-1) (P < 0·05) in the ileal mucosa. Piglets fed the TBZC-supplemented diet had a higher level of occludin than pigs fed the ZnO-supplemented diet (P < 0·05). The results indicate that Zn supplementation decreased faecal scores and the reduction was accompanied by reduced intestinal permeability, which was evident from the reduced urinary lactulose:mannitol ratios and increased expression of occludin and ZO-1. Therefore, the protective effect of pharmacological levels of dietary Zn in reducing diarrhoea might, at least partly, be associated with reduced intestinal permeability.

(Received December 03 2008)

(Revised January 16 2009)

(Accepted January 26 2009)

(Online publication March 09 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Professor Yuming Guo, fax +86 10 62733900, email


Abbreviations: TBZC, tetrabasic zinc chloride; ZO-1, zonula occludens protein-1