Document Type


Publication Date



This article has been peer reviewed. It is the author’s final published version in Oncotarget Volume 7, Issue 10, February 2016, Pages 10723-10738.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.18632/oncotarget.7561. Copyright © Impact Journals


Zinc deficiency (ZD) increases the risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), and marginal ZD is prevalent in humans. In rats, marked-ZD (3 mg Zn/kg diet) induces a proliferative esophagus with a 5-microRNA signature (miR-31, -223, -21, -146b, -146a) and promotes ESCC. Here we report that moderate and mild-ZD (6 and 12 mg Zn/kg diet) also induced esophageal hyperplasia, albeit less pronounced than induced by marked-ZD, with a 2-microRNA signature (miR-31, -146a). On exposure to an environmental carcinogen, ~16% of moderate/mild-ZD rats developed ESCC, a cancer incidence significantly greater than for Zn-sufficient rats (0%) (P ≤ 0.05), but lower than marked-ZD rats (68%) (P < 0.001). Importantly, the high ESCC, marked-ZD esophagus had a 15-microRNA signature, resembling the human ESCC miRNAome, with miR-223, miR-21, and miR-31 as the top-up-regulated species. This signature discriminated it from the low ESCC, moderate/mild-ZD esophagus, with a 2-microRNA signature (miR-31, miR-223). Additionally, Fbxw7, Pdcd4, and Stk40 (tumor-suppressor targets of miR-223, -21, and -31) were downregulated in marked-ZD cohort. Bioinformatics analysis predicted functional relationships of the 3 tumor-suppressors with other cancer-related genes. Thus, microRNA dysregulation and ESCC progression depend on the extent of dietary Zn deficiency. Our findings suggest that even moderate ZD may promote esophageal cancer and dietary Zn has preventive properties against ESCC. Additionally, the deficiency-associated miR-223, miR-21, and miR-31 may be useful therapeutic targets in ESCC.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

PubMed ID