Dietary iron intake and systemic iron balance are implicated in colorectal cancer (CRC) development, but the means by which iron contributes to CRC are unclear. Gene expression and functional studies demonstrated that the cellular iron importer, divalent metal transporter 1 (DMT1), is highly expressed in CRC through hypoxia-inducible factor 2α-dependent transcription. Colon-specific Dmt1 disruption resulted in a tumor-selective inhibitory effect of proliferation in mouse colon tumor models. Proteomic and genomic analyses identified an iron-regulated signaling axis mediated by cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (CDK1), JAK1, and STAT3 in CRC progression. A pharmacological inhibitor of DMT1 antagonized the ability of iron to promote tumor growth in a CRC mouse model and a patient-derived CRC enteroid orthotopic model. Our studies implicate a growth-promoting signaling network instigated by elevated intracellular iron levels in tumorigenesis, offering molecular insights into how a key dietary component may contribute to CRC.
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