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Mol Cancer. 2008 Mar 10;7:25. doi: 10.1186/1476-4598-7-25.

The involvement of Bax in zinc-induced mitochondrial apoptogenesis in malignant prostate cells.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences/Dental School and The Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



The development and progression of prostate cancer requires the transformation of normal zinc-accumulating epithelial cells to malignant cells that have lost the ability to accumulate zinc. This metabolic transformation is essential so that the tumor suppressive effects of zinc can be eliminated and the malignant process can proceed. One of the major effects of zinc is its prevention of prostate cell growth by its induction of apoptosis. The accumulation of cellular zinc has a direct effect on the mitochondria that results in the release of cytochrome c, which initiates the caspase cascade that leads to apoptosis. This effect is associated with the mitochondrial pore-forming process, but the mechanism by which zinc induces the release of cytochrome c and induces mitochondrial apoptogenesis has not been resolved. The present report provides for the first time information that implicates Bax in the zinc induction of mitochondrial apoptogenesis.


The effects of zinc treatment on the Bax levels of PC-3 cells and on the mitochondria were determined. The exposure of isolated mitochondria to zinc results in an increase in membrane bound Bax, which is due to the mitochondrial insertion of endogenous resident Bax. The mitochondrial Bax/Bcl-2 ratio is increased by zinc treatment. Zinc treatment of PC-3 cells also increases the mitochondrial level of Bax. In addition, zinc treatment increases the cellular level of Bax and the cellular Bax/Bcl2 ratio. Down regulation of Bax in PC-3 cells eliminates the zinc induction of apoptosis. The increase in cellular Bax level appears to involve zinc induction of Bax gene expression.


This report extends and confirms that physiological levels of zinc induce apoptosis in prostate cells. The study provides evidence that zinc is directly involved in facilitating a Bax-associated pore formation process that initiates mitochondrial apoptogenesis. This is enhanced by an additional effect of zinc on increasing the cellular level of Bax. To avoid the anti-tumor apoptogenic effects of zinc, the malignant cells in prostate cancer posses genetic/metabolic adaptations that prevent the cellular accumulation of zinc.

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