- Zinc enhances epithelial proliferation, protects the digestive epithelial layer and has profound antiulcerative and antidiarrheal roles in the colon. Despite the clinical significance of this ion, the mechanisms linking zinc to these cellular processes are poorly understood. We have previously identified an extracellular Zn(2+) sensing G-protein coupled receptor (ZnR) that activates Ca(2+) signaling in colonocytes, but its molecular identity as well as its effects on colonocytes' survival remained elusive. Here, we show that Zn(2+), by activation of the ZnR, protects HT29 colonocytes from butyrate induced cell death. Silencing of the G-protein coupled receptor GPR39 expression abolished ZnR-dependent Ca(2+) release and Zn(2+)-dependent survival of butyrate-treated colonocytes. Importantly, GPR39 also mediated ZnR-dependent upregulation of Na(+)/H(+) exchange activity as this activity was found in native colon tissue but not in tissue obtained from GPR39 knock-out mice. Although ZnR-dependent upregulation of Na(+)/H(+) exchange reduced the cellular acid load induced by butyrate, it did not rescue HT29 cells from butyrate induced cell death. ZnR/GPR39 activation however, increased the expression of the anti-apoptotic protein clusterin in butyrate-treated cells. Furthermore, silencing of clusterin abolished the Zn(2+)-dependent survival of HT29 cells. Altogether, our results demonstrate that extracellular Zn(2+), acting through ZnR, regulates intracellular pH and clusterin expression thereby enhancing survival of HT29 colonocytes. Moreover, we identify GPR39 as the molecular moiety of ZnR in HT29 and native colonocytes.