Role of zinc in the regulation of autophagy during ethanol exposure in human hepatoma cells

Biol Trace Elem Res. 2013 Dec;156(1-3):350-6. doi: 10.1007/s12011-013-9816-3. Epub 2013 Sep 24.


Faulty autophagy has been linked to various diseases including neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, and cancer. Increasing evidence support the notion that activation of autophagy protects against ethanol-induced steatosis and liver injury. Herein, we investigated the role of zinc in autophagy in human hepatoma cells VL-17A exposed or not to ethanol. LC3II/LC3I ratio, p62, and Beclin-1 expression and autophagosomes number were determined in cells incubated in medium containing various concentrations of zinc with or without ethanol. In addition, labile zinc and mRNA expression of metallothionein and the zinc transporters SLC39A8, SLC39A14, and SLC30A10 were evaluated in cells exposed to ethanol and the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine. Zinc depletion caused a significant suppression of autophagy in cells. Conversely, zinc addition to medium stimulated autophagy in cells. Moreover, cotreatment with ethanol and excess zinc (40 μM) had an additive effect on the induction of autophagy. 3-methyadenine treatment decreased labile zinc, but this effect was more pronounced in cells exposed to ethanol. Lastly, ethanol and 3-methyladenine caused significant changes in the expression of metallothionein and zinc transporters. The results from this study support the hypothesis that zinc is critical for autophagy under basal conditions and during ethanol exposure.

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Proteins / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Neoplasm / biosynthesis
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Neoplasm
  • Ethanol
  • Zinc