Trace Metal Transport



The term “trace metals” is used here to include both those transition metals, which are essential for cell function and those, which do not have a known biological role but which produce toxic effects by interacting with biological systems. The metals discussed are zinc, copper, cobalt, nickel, chromium, manganese, iron and cadmium. A common property of these metals is the ability to form coordination compounds with amino acids with very high affinity. Conventionally, the affinity of the metal for the amino acid ligand is expressed as a log stability constant (the association constant for the forward reaction). In many cases the metal can form stable complexes with multiple ligands; for example zinc can associate with one histidine to form a mono complex which can then associate with a second histidine to form a bis complex. Mixed complexes such as Zn(cys-his) can also exist in biological systems. The distribution of the metal between the various forms is an equilibrium and will vary with the relative concentrations of metal and ligand. The stability constants for these interactions vary over a wide range. Values for the log stability constant for the formation of Ni(cys)2 in vitro are approx. 20, compared with that for Mn(his)2 of 5.8. This behaviour affects the availability of trace metals for uptake into cells and tissues from plasma. For example, approx. 98% of plasma zinc is incorporated in α2-macroglobulin (non-labile) or complexed to serum albumin (labile). Virtually all the remaining zinc is complexed to amino acids, mainly histidine and cysteine (Giroux and Henkin 1972).


Human Erythrocyte Zinc Uptake Copper Uptake Cadmium Uptake Mature Erythrocyte 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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