Zinc is a critical component in a number of conserved processes that regulate female germ cell growth, fertility, and pregnancy. During follicle development, a sufficient intracellular concentration of zinc in the oocyte maintains meiotic arrest at prophase I until the germ cell is ready to undergo maturation. An adequate supply of zinc is necessary for the oocyte to form a fertilization-competent egg as dietary zinc deficiency or chelation of zinc disrupts maturation and reduces the oocyte quality. Following sperm fusion to the egg to initiate the acrosomal reaction, a quick release of zinc, known as the zinc spark, induces egg activation in addition to facilitating zona pellucida hardening and reducing sperm motility to prevent polyspermy. Symmetric division, proliferation, and differentiation of the preimplantation embryo rely on zinc availability, both during the oocyte development and post-fertilization. Further, the fetal contribution to the placenta, fetal limb growth, and neural tube development are hindered in females challenged with zinc deficiency during pregnancy. In this review, we discuss the role of zinc in germ cell development, fertilization, and pregnancy with a focus on recent studies in mammalian females. We further detail the fundamental zinc-mediated reproductive processes that have only been explored in non-mammalian species and speculate on the role of zinc in similar mechanisms of female mammals. The evidence collected over the last decade highlights the necessity of zinc for normal fertility and healthy pregnancy outcomes, which suggests zinc supplementation should be considered for reproductive age women at risk of zinc deficiency.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Reproductive Medicine
- Cell Biology