Human zinc deficiency is thought to be prevalent worldwide, particularly in populations with diets low in zinc and animal protein and high in inhibitors of zinc absorption, such as phytic acid. Confirmation of zinc deficiency is, however, difficult in the absence of a reliable and sensitive marker of zinc status. Under controlled conditions, T-lymphocyte metallothionein-2A (MT-2A) mRNA levels change in relation to zinc status and the objective of the present study was to investigate whether these transcript levels could be related to dietary zinc intake, plasma zinc or other biochemical parameters influenced by, or influencing, zinc metabolism in human subjects likely to be zinc deficient. Rural Koreans (n 110, age 50–80 years) with a range of zinc and phytic acid dietary intake were recruited for the study and blood samples were analysed for plasma zinc, HDL, LDL, α-tocopherol and thiobarbituric acid reactive substances, mononuclear cell (MNC) MT-2A mRNA, serum protein and albumin, and blood haematocrit, Hb and glucose. Multiple correlation and principal component analysis showed a significant negative correlation between plasma zinc and MNC MT-2A mRNA levels. Female subjects had higher MT-2A transcript levels than males and MT-2A mRNA levels tended to increase with age. There was no significant association between dietary zinc intake or any index of zinc intake relating to dietary inhibitors of zinc absorption. It is concluded that MNC MT-2A mRNA levels cannot be used to predict poor zinc nutrition.