Aberrant expression of zinc transporter ZIP4 (SLC39A4) significantly contributes to human pancreatic cancer pathogenesis and progression

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Nov 20;104(47):18636-41. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0709307104. Epub 2007 Nov 14.


Zinc is an essential trace element and catalytic/structural component used by many metalloenzymes and transcription factors. Recent studies indicate a possible correlation of zinc levels with the cancer risk; however, the exact role of zinc and zinc transporters in cancer progression is unknown. We have observed that a zinc transporter, ZIP4 (SLC39A4), was substantially overexpressed in 16 of 17 (94%) clinical pancreatic adenocarcinoma specimens compared with the surrounding normal tissues, and ZIP4 mRNA expression was significantly higher in human pancreatic cancer cells than human pancreatic ductal epithelium (HPDE) cells. This indicates that aberrant ZIP4 up-regulation may contribute to the pancreatic cancer pathogenesis and progression. We studied the effects of ZIP4 overexpression in pancreatic cancer cell proliferation in vitro and pancreatic cancer progression in vivo. We found that forced expression of ZIP4 increased intracellular zinc levels, increased cell proliferation by 2-fold in vitro, and significantly increased tumor volume by 13-fold in the nude mice model with s.c. xenograft compared with the control cells. In the orthotopic nude mice model, overexpression of ZIP4 not only increased the primary tumor weight (7.2-fold), it also increased the peritoneal dissemination and ascites incidence. Moreover, increased cell proliferation and higher zinc content were also observed in the tumor tissues that overexpressed ZIP4. These data reveal an important outcome of aberrant ZIP4 expression in contributing to pancreatic cancer pathogenesis and progression. It may suggest a therapeutic strategy whereby ZIP4 is targeted to control pancreatic cancer growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Progression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • SLC39A4 protein, human