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Esophageal cancer prevention in zinc-deficient rats: rapid induction of apoptosis by replenishing zinc.

J Natl Cancer Inst 2001 Oct 17;93(20):1525-33    

Fong LY; Nguyen VT; Farber JL
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Kimmel Cancer Institute, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA 19107-6799, USA. L_Fong@lac.jci.tju.edu .

BACKGROUND: Nutritional zinc deficiency in rats increases esophageal cell proliferation and the incidence of N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine (NMBA)-induced esophageal tumors. Replenishing zinc with a zinc-sufficient diet reduces these effects in zinc-deficient (ZD) rats. We investigated whether apoptosis was involved in the reduction of NMBA-induced esophageal tumors when ZD rats consumed a zinc-sufficient diet. METHODS: Weanling rats were fed a ZD diet (zinc at 3-4 ppm) for 5 weeks to establish esophageal cell proliferation, then treated once with NMBA (2 mg/kg body weight), and divided into the following five groups (47-100 per group). One ZD group was fed the ZD diet, and four zinc-replenished (ZR) groups, ZR(1), ZR(24), ZR(72), and ZR(432), were fed a zinc-sufficient diet (zinc at 74-75 ppm) beginning 1, 24, 72, and 432 hours, respectively, after NMBA treatment. From 24 hours to 2 weeks after beginning a zinc-sufficient diet, esophagi from all ZR groups were analyzed for apoptosis and cell proliferation; ZD esophagi were the controls. Tumor incidence was determined 15 weeks after zinc replenishment. All statistical tests were two-sided. RESULTS: Zinc replenishment initiated shortly after NMBA treatment effectively reduced esophageal tumorigenesis; 8% (three of 37) of ZR(1), 14% (five of 37) of ZR(24), 19% (five of 26) of ZR(72), and 48% (19 of 40) of ZR(432) rats developed esophageal tumors compared with 93% (14 of 15) of ZD animals (all P<.001). Importantly, 24 and 30 hours after zinc replenishment, esophagi had numerous apoptotic cells (% apoptotic cells: 0 hour = 2.9%, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.5% to 3.3%; 24 hours = 9.4%, 95% CI = 8.2% to 10.6%), and the expression of the proapoptotic Bax protein doubled. Within 48 hours, the ZR(1) epithelium was three to five cell layers thick compared with 10-20 layers before zinc replenishment. CONCLUSIONS: Zinc replenishment of NMBA-treated ZD rats rapidly induces apoptosis in esophageal epithelial cells and thereby substantially reduces the development of esophageal cancer.