It was recently demonstrated that particulate matter (PM) containing water-soluble zinc produces cardiac injury following pulmonary exposure. To investigate whether pulmonary zinc exposure produces systemic metal imbalance and direct cardiac effects, male Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rats (12-14 wk age) were intratracheally (IT) instilled with saline or 2 micromol/kg zinc sulfate. Temporal analysis was performed for systemic levels of essential metals (zinc, copper, and selenium), and induction of zinc transporter-2 (ZT-2) and metallothionein-1 (MT-1) mRNA in the lung, heart, and liver. Additionally, cardiac gene expression profile was evaluated using Affymetrix GeneChips (rat 230A) arrays to identify zinc-specific effects. Pulmonary zinc instillation produced an increase in plasma zinc to approximately 20% at 1 and 4 h postexposure with concomitant decline in the lung levels. At 24 and 48 h postexposure, zinc levels rose significantly (approximately 35%) in the liver. At these time points, plasma and liver levels of copper and selenium also increased significantly, suggesting systemic disturbance in essential metals. Zinc exposure was associated with marked induction of MT-1 and ZT-2 mRNA in lung, heart, and liver, suggesting systemic metal sequestration response. Given the functional role of zinc in hundreds of proteins, the gene expression profiles demonstrated changes that are expected based on its physiological role. Zinc exposure produced an increase in expression of kinases and inhibition of expression of phosphatases; up- or downregulation of genes involved in mitochondrial function; changes in calcium regulatory proteins suggestive of elevated intracellular free calcium and increases in sulfotransferases; upregulation of potassium channel genes; and changes in free radical-sensitive proteins. Some of these expression changes are reflective of a direct effect of zinc on myocardium following pulmonary exposure, which may result in impaired mitochondrial respiration, stimulated cell signaling, altered Ca2+ homeostasis, and increased transcription of sulfotransferases. Cardiotoxicity may be an outcome of acute zinc toxicosis and occupational exposures to metal fumes containing soluble zinc. Imbalance of systemic metal homeostasis as a result of pulmonary zinc exposure may underlie the cause of extrapulmonary effects.