In rats, zinc deficiency has been reported to result in elevated hepatic methionine synthase activity and alterations in folate metabolism. We investigated the effect of zinc deficiency on plasma homocysteine concentrations and the distribution of hepatic folates. Weanling male rats were fed ad libitum a zinc-sufficient control diet (382.0 nmol zinc/g diet), a low-zinc diet (7.5 nmol zinc/g diet), or a control diet pair-fed to the intake of the zinc-deficient rats. After 6 weeks, the body weights of the zinc-deficient and pair-fed control groups were lower than those of controls, and plasma zinc concentrations were lowest in the zinc-deficient group. Plasma homocysteine concentrations in the zinc-deficient group (2.3 +/- 0.2 micromol/L) were significantly lower than those in the ad libitum-fed and pair-fed control groups (6.7 +/- 0.5 and 3.2 +/- 0.4 micromol/L, respectively). Hepatic methionine synthase activity in the zinc-deficient group was higher than in the other two groups. Low mean percentage of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate in total hepatic folates and low plasma folate concentration were observed in the zinc-deficient group compared with the ad libitum-fed and pair-fed control groups. The reduced plasma homocysteine and folate concentrations and reduced percentage of hepatic 5-methyltetrahydrofolate are probably secondary to the increased activity of hepatic methionine synthase in zinc deficiency.