Differential expression of metallothioneins (MTs) 1, 2, and 3 in response to zinc treatment in human prostate normal and malignant cells and tissues

Mol Cancer. 2008 Jan 21;7:7. doi: 10.1186/1476-4598-7-7.


Background: The disturbance of zinc homeostasis featured with a significant decrease of cellular zinc level was well documented to associate with the development and progression of human prostate malignancy. We have previously reported that zinc treatment induces prostate malignant cell apoptosis through mitochondrial pathway. Metallothionein (MT) is a major receptor/donor of zinc in the cells. However, the studies on the expression of MT in association with the prostate pathological and malignant status are very limited, and the zinc regulation of MT isoform expression in prostate cells remains elusive. The goals of this study were to define the expression of endogenous MTs, the isoforms of MT 1, 2, 3 at both messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) and protein levels; and to investigate the zinc effect on MT expression in normal prostate, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and malignant PC-3 cells, and in relevant human tissues. Cellular MT proteins were detected by immunohistochemistry, fluorescence staining and Western blot analysis; reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was used to determine the MT isoform-specific mRNAs.

Results: Our results demonstrated a significant suppression of endogenous levels of MT1/2 in malignant PC-3 cells (95% reduction compared to the normal prostate cells) and in human adenocarcinoma tissues (73% MT1/2 negative). A moderate reduction of MT1/2 expression was observed in BPH. Zinc treatment remarkably induced MT1/2 expression in PC-3 and BPH cells, which was accordant with the restored cellular zinc level. MT 3, as a growth inhibitory factor, was detected and up-regulated by zinc mainly in BPH cells.

Conclusion: This study provided evidence of the association of attenuated MT1/2 with prostate tumor progression, and the zinc induction of MT1/2 expression resulting in cellular zinc restoration. The results suggest the potential of MT1/2 as a candidate biomarker for prostate cancer and the utilization of zinc in prostate cancer prevention and treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metallothionein / genetics*
  • Metallothionein / metabolism*
  • Organ Specificity / drug effects
  • Prostate / cytology
  • Prostate / drug effects*
  • Prostate / metabolism*
  • Prostate / pathology
  • Prostatic Hyperplasia / genetics
  • Prostatic Hyperplasia / metabolism
  • Prostatic Hyperplasia / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Zinc / metabolism
  • Zinc / pharmacology*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Metallothionein
  • Zinc