Progressive silencing of the zinc transporter Zip8 (Slc39a8) in chronic cadmium-exposed lung epithelial cells

Acta Biochim Biophys Sin (Shanghai). 2017 May 1;49(5):444-449. doi: 10.1093/abbs/gmx022.


Cadmium (Cd), a non-essential metal, stealthily enters the cells by utilizing the essential metal importing pathways. The zinc transporters Zip8, Zip14, and divalent metal transporter 1 (Dmt1) are now emerging as several important metal transporters involved in cellular Cd incorporation and their expressions have been shown to be down-regulated in several Cd-resistant (CdR) cell lines, however, the involvement of these transporters during the development of Cd-resistance in lung cells is unclear. In this study, we therefore check the expression of these metal transporters in our previously established rat lung epithelial cells (LECs) and show that the level of Zip8 is progressively silenced when LECs are adapted to increasing concentrations of CdCl2 (from 1 to 20 μM). Subsequent measurement of the cellular Cd content indicated that CdR LECs exhibit a marked decrease of Cd accumulation, possibly due to the loss of Zip8 expression. We investigate the possibility that epigenetic silencing of the Zip8 gene by DNA hypermethylation is involved in the down-regulation of Zip8 expression. CdR LECs show a higher mRNA level of DNA methyltransferase 3b (Dnmt3b) than parental cells. Treatment of CdR LECs with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, an inhibitor of DNA methyltransferases, reverted the expression of Zip8 and sensitivity to Cd in these cells, indicating the critical role of Zip8 for Cd import. Taken together, our results demonstrate that the progressive silencing of Zip8 expression is involved in the acquisition of resistance against Cd in lung cells, representing an adaptive survival mechanism that resists Cd-induced cytotoxicity.

Keywords: Cd-resistant cells; Dnmt3b; Slc39a8; Zip8; cadmium.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / drug effects
  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cadmium / administration & dosage*
  • Cadmium / pharmacokinetics*
  • Cadmium Poisoning / metabolism*
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Rats


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Slc39a8 protein, rat
  • Cadmium