Decreased zinc and downregulation of ZIP3 zinc uptake transporter in the development of pancreatic adenocarcinoma

Cancer Biol Ther. 2011 Aug 15;12(4):297-303. doi: 10.4161/cbt.12.4.16356. Epub 2011 Aug 15.


Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is an untreatable deadly cancer. The factors involved in its early development remain unknown; which contributes to the absence of biomarkers for early detection of malignancy or at-risk subjects, and the absence of efficacious therapeutic agents. Because zinc changes are implicated in some cancers, we determined if it might be involved in the development of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. With in situ Dithizone and Zinquin staining of normal pancreas and adenocarcinoma tissue sections, we show for the first time, a consistent major loss of zinc in ductal and acinar epithelium in adenocarcinoma compared to the normal epithelium. This decrease in zinc is evident in well-differentiated through poorly-differentiated stages of malignancy. Immunohistochemistry identified ZIP3 as the basilar membrane zinc uptake transporter in normal ductal/acinar epithelium; and that the transporter is absent in adenocarcinoma. In situ Rt-PCR revealed that ZIP3 gene expression is silenced in adenocarcinoma. The ZIP3 down regulation accompanied the loss of zinc in early and progressing malignancy. RREB1 transcription factor was down regulated along with ZIP3; and might be involved in the silencing of ZIP3 expression. Zinc treatment was cytotoxic to malignant Panc1 cells. The combination of concurrent zinc, ZIP3, and RREB-1 changes represent early events in the development of adenocarcinoma; and suggest that zinc might be a tumor suppressor of pancreatic cancer. This report provides the clinical foundation for further mechanistic studies that will provide important insight into pancreatic carcinogenesis, and can lead to the development of effective early biomarkers and effective therapeutic agents for pancreatic cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Dithizone / chemistry
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Down-Regulation
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Epithelium / pathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Pancreas / metabolism
  • Pancreas / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Quinolones / chemistry
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Tissue Array Analysis
  • Tosyl Compounds / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Zinc / chemistry
  • Zinc / metabolism*
  • Zinc / pharmacology


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Quinolones
  • RREB1 protein, human
  • SLC39A3 protein, human
  • Tosyl Compounds
  • Transcription Factors
  • Dithizone
  • Zinc
  • zinquin