Assessment of coupled Zn concentration and natural stable isotope analyses of urine as a novel probe of Zn status†
Zinc is a common trace metal in the human body, present in about 10% of proteins. Despite numerous roles of Zn in health and disease, there is still a need for a robust biomarker of Zn status. Many parameters have been proposed, with varying levels of success, with plasma Zn often favoured. This study investigates if Zn status can be assessed from the natural stable Zn isotope composition of urine. To this end, 60 urine samples were analysed from ten healthy participants. Remarkably, samples with lower Zn concentrations are systematically enriched in heavy Zn isotopes. Most of the low-Zn urine originated from individuals who omitted dairy, meat or both from their diets. When data for blood serum from age-matched, healthy individuals are compared with the urine results, the former plot at the extension of the urine trend at higher Zn concentrations and lighter isotope compositions. The observed co-variation of Zn isotope compositions with concentrations is indicative of an isotope fractionation system where both properties are controlled by the same processes. It is interpreted as arising from filtration and/or reabsorption processes within the kidney, which are associated with absorbed dietary Zn. The data suggest that the Zn in blood serum that is bound to low molecular weight molecules has an isotope composition distinct from total serum, due to the different affinities of molecular Zn-binding residues to heavy and light Zn isotopes. This technique provides additional information into an individual's Zn status compared to urine or plasma Zn levels alone.