Zinc modulates airway epithelium susceptibility to death receptor-mediated apoptosis

Shenying Bao, Daren L. Knoell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


The accelerated loss of lung epithelium through activation of extrinsic apoptosis is believed to play a causative role in lung pathogenesis. Previous investigations have shown that zinc is required to sustain lung epithelial cell viability under stress conditions and that depletion of intracellular zinc predisposes cells to apoptosis. In this investigation, we determined whether intracellular zinc deficiency enhanced the susceptibility of primary, differentiated cultures of human lung epithelium to death receptor-mediated apoptosis, leading to barrier dysfunction. Cultures obtained from multiple donors were exposed to stimuli that provoke death receptor-mediated apoptosis and depleted of intracellular zinc with a zinc-specific chelating agent. Transepithelial resistance, paracellular transport, caspase-8 and caspase-3 activity, and apoptosis were measured. Activation of extrinsic apoptosis or zinc chelation alone resulted in a nominal increase in caspase function and apoptosis without major evidence of barrier disruption. Activation of extrinsic apoptosis in addition to zinc depletion resulted in an abrupt decrease in transepithelial resistance, a substantial increase in apoptosis, and an increased paracellular leak. Cultures were rescued by supplementation with zinc sulfate. Further analysis revealed that exogenous zinc facilitates cell survival through activation of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt signaling pathway. We conclude that intracellular zinc is a vital factor in lung epithelium that protects cells from death receptor-mediated apoptosis and barrier dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L433-L441
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Airway epithelium
  • Barrier dysfunction
  • Caspase
  • Programmed cell death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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