Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Symposium on ‘New insights into the molecular regulation of trace element metabolism’

Intestinal and placental zinc transport pathways

Dianne Forda1 c1

a1 School of Cell and Molecular Biosciences, Agriculture Building, University of Newcastle, Kings Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK


Mammalian members of the cation diffusion facilitator (CDF) and zrt-, irt-like protein (ZIP) families of Zn transporters, initially identified in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Arabidopsis thalania spp., have been cloned during the last 8 years and have been classified as families SLC30 and SLC39 respectively. The cloning of human Zn transporters ZnT-like transporter 1 (hZTL1)/ZnT5 (SLC30A5) and hZIP4 (SLC39A4) were major advances in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of dietary Zn absorption. Both transporters are localised at the enterocyte apical membrane and are, therefore, potentially of fundamental importance in dietary Zn uptake. hZTL1 mediates Zn uptake when expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes and hZIP4 is mutated in most cases of the inherited Zn deficiency disease acrodermatitis enteropathica. Localisation of hZTL1/ZnT5 at the apical membrane of the placental syncytiotrophoblast indicates a fundamental role in the transfer of Slc30 Zn to the foetus. Observations in rodent models indicate that in the intestine increased Zn availability increases expression of Zn transporters. Human intestinal Caco-2 cells show a similar response to increasing the Zn2+ concentration of the nutrient medium in relation to the expression of mRNA corresponding to several Zn transporters and that of ZnT1 (SLC30A1) and hZTL1/ZnT5 proteins. In the human placental cell line JAR, however, expression at the mRNA level of a number of Zn transporters is not modified by Zn availability, whilst ZnT1 and hZTL1/ZnT5 proteins are reduced under Zn-supplemented conditions. These differences between Caco-2 and JAR cells in Zn transporter gene responses to Zn supply may reflect the different extracellular Zn concentrations encountered by the corresponding cell types in vitro.


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Dianne Ford, fax +44 191 2228684, email