Marginal zinc deficiency exacerbates bone lead accumulation and high dietary zinc attenuates lead accumulation at the expense of bone density in growing rats.
Environmental lead exposure is associated with reduced bone growth and quality, which may predispose to osteoporosis. Zinc supplementation may reduce lead accumulation; however, effects on bone development have not been addressed. Our objective was to investigate the effects of marginal zinc (MZ) and supplemental zinc (SZ) intakes on bone lead deposition and skeletal development in lead-exposed rats. In a factorial design, weanling Sprague-Dawley rats were assigned to MZ (8 mg/kg diet); zinc-adequate control (CT; 30 mg/kg); zinc-adequate, diet-restricted (DR; 30 mg/kg); or SZ (300 mg/kg) groups, with and without lead acetate-containing drinking water (200 mg Pb/l) for 3 weeks. Excised femurs were analyzed for bone mineral density (BMD) by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, morphometry, and mineral content. MZ had higher femur lead and lower femur zinc concentrations and impaired skeletal growth and mineralization than CT. DR inhibited growth but did not result in higher femur lead concentrations than CT. SZ had higher femur zinc and lower femur lead concentrations than the other treatments. DR and SZ had impaired BMD versus CT and MZ. Lead also retarded skeletal growth and impaired BMD, but an interaction between lead and MZ was only found for femoral knee width, which was lower in MZ exposed to lead. In summary, while MZ deficiency exacerbated bone lead concentration, it generally did not intensify lead toxicity. SZ was protective against bone lead but was detrimental to BMD, suggesting that the optimal level of SZ to reduce lead absorption, while supporting growth and bone development, requires further investigation.