Selective inhibitory effects of zinc on cell proliferation in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma through Orai1

FASEB J. 2018 Jan;32(1):404-416. doi: 10.1096/fj.201700227RRR. Epub 2017 Sep 19.


Zinc, an essential micronutrient, has a cancer preventive role. Zinc deficiency has been shown to contribute to the progression of esophageal cancer. Orai1, a store-operated Ca2+ entry (SOCE) channel, was previously reported to be highly expressed in tumor tissues removed from patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) with poor prognosis, and elevation of its expression contributes to both hyperactive intracellular Ca2+ oscillations and fast cell proliferation in human ESCC cells. However, the molecular basis of cancer preventive functions of zinc and its association with Orai1-mediated cell proliferation remains unknown. The present study shows that zinc supplementation significantly inhibits proliferation of ESCC cell lines and that the effect of zinc is reversible with N,N,N',N'-tetrakis (2-pyridylmethyl) ethylenediamine, a specific Zn2+ chelator, whereas nontumorigenic esophageal epithelial cells are significantly less sensitive to zinc treatment. Fluorescence live cell imaging revealed that extracellular Zn2+ exerted rapid inhibitory effects on Orai1-mediated SOCE and on intracellular Ca2+ oscillations in the ESCC cells. Knockdown of Orai1 or expression of Orai1 mutants with compromised zinc binding significantly diminished sensitivity of the cancer cells to zinc treatment in both SOCE and cell proliferation analyses. These data suggest that zinc may inhibit cell proliferation of esophageal cancer cells through Orai1-mediated intracellular Ca2+ oscillations and reveal a possible molecular basis for zinc-induced cancer prevention and Orai1-SOCE signaling pathway in cancer cells.-Choi, S., Cui, C., Luo, Y., Kim, S.-H., Ko, J.-K., Huo, X., Ma, J., Fu, L.-W., Souza, R. F., Korichneva, I., Pan, Z. Selective inhibitory effects of zinc on cell proliferation in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma through Orai1.

Keywords: cancer prevention; histidine; intracellular Ca2+ oscillations; redox sensor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Calcium Signaling / drug effects
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Chelating Agents / pharmacology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Ethylenediamines / pharmacology
  • G2 Phase Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Mutant Proteins / genetics
  • Mutant Proteins / metabolism
  • ORAI1 Protein / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ORAI1 Protein / genetics
  • ORAI1 Protein / metabolism*
  • Zinc / pharmacology*


  • Chelating Agents
  • Ethylenediamines
  • Mutant Proteins
  • ORAI1 Protein
  • ORAI1 protein, human
  • Zinc
  • N,N,N',N'-tetrakis(2-pyridylmethyl)ethylenediamine