Scientists find out how our body transports zinc to protect our health

32
An artist's interpretation of zinc being transported in the bloodstream.
An artist's interpretation of zinc being transported in the bloodstream.

Zinc is essential for wound healing, for vision, for DNA creation, for our senses of taste and smell, even for sexual health.

But despite its importance, scientists have never fully understood the mechanism that moves the mineral through the body – until now.

Researchers have, for the first time, created detailed blueprints of the molecular moving vans that ferry this important mineral everywhere it’s needed through the blood.

The finding gives scientists new insights into this important process – and a deeper understanding of the critical role it plays in maintaining good health.

Researchers from the University of Virginia conducted the work.

Surprising Findings

Zinc is carried through the body by a protein known as serum albumin.

Scientists had expected there would be a primary binding site where serum albumin binds with zinc, and the researchers proved the location of that site.

But the team also found several more secondary binding sites, revealing a more complex interaction than anticipated.

While computer models previously had been used to predict how serum albumin picks up zinc, Minor’s team used a scientific technique called X-ray crystallography to create colorful images of zinc actually bound to serum albumin.

The technique allows them to pinpoint the location of each particular zinc atom.

It was a challenging task, but the resulting schematics allow scientists to see, for the first time, exactly how serum albumin and zinc come together.

A Healthy Balance

With the finding, scientists have a better grasp of how the body maintains the delicate balances necessary for good health, a state known as homeostasis.

It’s a complex dance made all the more complicated by the fact that serum albumin also transports many other things, such as hormones and fatty acids.

This is important because the body needs zinc, but too much zinc is toxic.

So the body must make it available where it is needed, but, at the same time, it must prevent excessive buildup.

Implications of the Discovery

Researchers noted that the research could help shed light on why certain drugs affect some patients differently than others.

“We are going towards an understanding of all these complex relationships.”

“You have this one molecule [serum albumin], and you have hundreds – possibly thousands – of different molecules which bind to it.”

“We need to understand all this interplay. By studying zinc binding to albumin, we are understanding this relationship deeper.”

Follow Knowridge Science Report on Facebook, Twitter and Flipboard. 


Citation: The paper was authored by Handing KB, et al. (2016). Circulatory zinc transport is controlled by distinct interdomain sites on mammalian albumins. Chemical Science, 7: 6635-6648. DOI: 10.1039/C6SC02267G. 
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is credited to Wladek Minor.