Comparing Gene Expression during Cadmium Uptake and Distribution: Untreated versus Oral Cd-Treated Wild-Type and ZIP14 Knockout Mice
Comparing Gene Expression during Cadmium Uptake and Distribution: Untreated versus Oral Cd-Treated Wild-Type and ZIP14 Knockout Mice
Lucia F. Jorge-Nebert 0 2 4
Marina Ga´ lvez-Peralta 0 2 4
Julio Landero Figueroa 0 1 2
Maheshika Somarathna 0 2 4
Shintaro Hojyo 0 2 3 6
Toshiyuki Fukada 0 2 3 5
Daniel W. Nebert 0 2 4
0 Sciences, School of Dentistry, Showa University , Shinagawa, Tokyo 142-8555 , Japan
1 Department of Chemistry, University of Cincinnati , Cincinnati
2 Osteoimmunology , 10117 Berlin , Germany
3 Laboratory for Homeostatic Network, RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences , Tsurumi, Yokohama, Kanagawa 230-0045 , Japan
4 Department of Environmental Health and Center for Environmental Genetics, University of Cincinnati Medical Center , Cincinnati, Ohio 45267-0056
5 Division of Pathology, Department of Oral Diagnostic
6 Deutsches Rheuma-Forschungszentrum , Berlin
The nonessential metal cadmium (Cd) is toxic only after entering the cell. Proteins possibly relevant to intracellular Cd accumulation include the divalent metal transporter-1 (DMT1) and all 14 zinc-like iron-like protein (ZIP) importers, 10 zinc transporter (ZnT) exporters, and metallothionein chaperones MT1 and MT2. Comparing oral Cd-treated ZIP14 knockout (KO) with wild-type (WT) mice, we predicted Cd uptake and distribution would be diminished in the KO-because ZIP14 is very highly expressed in GI tract and liver; this was indeed observed for Cd content in liver. However, the reverse was found in kidney and lung from 6 or 12 h through 10 days of Cd exposure; at these times, Cd accumulation was unexpectedly greater in KO than WT mice; mRNA levels of the 27 above-mentioned genes were thus examined in proximal small intestine (PSI) versus kidney to see if these paradoxical effects could be explained by substantial alterations in any of the other 26 genes. PSI genes highly expressed in untreated WT animals included seven ZIP and five ZnT transporters, DMT1, MT1, and MT2; kidney genes included 11 ZIP and 7 ZnT transporters, DMT1, MT1, and MT2. Over 10 days of oral Cd, a bimodal response was seen for Cd content in PSI and for various mRNAs; initially, acute effects caused by the toxic metal; subsequently, the up- or down-regulation of important genes presumably to combat the sustained adversity. These data underscore the complex interplay between the gastrointestinal tract and renal proteins that might be relevant to Cd uptake and distribution in animals exposed to oral Cd. Cadmium (Cd0, Cd2þ) is a ubiquitous nonessential toxic heavy metal.@ Heavy industrial usage of Cd began in the 1940s (Stoeppler, 1991). Today Cd is used principally in combination with nickel, e.g., battery manufacturing, pigments, and VC The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Toxicology. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail:
oral cadmium; ZIP influxors; ZnT effluxors; divalent metal transporter DMT1; metallothioneins; zinc transport; SLC39 family; SLC30 family; SLC11A2; pharmacokinetics of metal uptake
plastic stabilizers. Major occupational Cd exposures occur in
non-ferrous metal smelters and recycling of electronic waste
(Waisberg et al., 2003). Cigarette smoke is by far the largest
source of Cd exposure (Zalups and Ahmad, 2003); for
nonsmokers, Cd-contaminated food is a major cause of Cd
exposure—fish and shellfish, organ meat (especially liver and
kidney), and grains and cereal products (ATSDR, 1999; The´ venod
and Lee, 2013). In the 2013 Substance Priority List (http://www.
atsdr.cdc.gov/spl/), Cd was ranked seventh by the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and U.S. Environmental
A major route of Cd exposure is via the gastrointestinal (GI)
tract. Even among smokers, more than half the Cd and other
toxicants are swallowed and enter the GI tract, compared with
that absorbed by lung (Chen et al., 1989; Ja¨ rup 2003; Rozman and
Klaassen, 2007). Intriguingly, several epidemiological studies
(Hsu et al., 2009; Meltzer et al., 2010; Satarug et al., 2004) showed
greater Cd accumulation among humans experiencing
hypozincemia—which usually accompanies malnutrition, anemia, and/
or infection; these data implicate an intricate interplay between
Zn2þ and Cd2þ uptake.
Following GI tract absorption in lab animals, Cd binds to
various polypeptides such as metallothionein (MT) and reduced
glutathione (GSH); dissociation constants of Cd-MT and Cd-GSH
complexes are exceptionally low and therefore exhibit
extremely high binding affinities: 10 23 M (Klaassen and Liu,
1998) and 10 10 M (Quig, 1998), respectively. Cd-MT and
GS-CdSG complexes in blood appear to be the principal means by
which Cd is transported from portals-of-entry; ultimately, Cd is
deposited mostly in kidney. In double-knockout (KO) mice, after
3 or 10 days of Cd exposre, Mt1/Mt2( / ) mice had much lower
Cd than WT in their tissues (Klaassen et al., 1999),
demonstrating in the intact animal an important role of MT1 and/or MT2 in
In addition to being classified by International Agency for
Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Category I (i.e., highest level
of correlation) human lung carcinogen, Cd also causes severe
renal toxicity. Average accumulation of Cd in kidneys of a
smoker with 100 cigarette-pack-year history, e.g., is close to
threshold levels sufficient for overt Cd nephrotoxicity.
Estimated half-life of Cd in humans is between 15 and 20 years
(Jin et al., 2004).
Cd can damage a cell only after being internalized. Once
inside, intracellular Cd2þ causes prominent oxidative stress—via
mechanisms not well understood—thus forming disulfide
bonds in many sulfhydryl-containing proteins (Go et al., 2014),
which in turn likely inactivates critical intracellular functions.
Several decades of mammalian cell culture studies (reviewed in
[He et al., 2009]) had suggested two fundamental mechanisms of
Cd uptake: voltage-gated calcium channels (Lopin et al., 2012);
and the divalent metal transporter-1 (DMT1; also called
NRAMP2; standardized nomenclature SLC11A2). DMT1 is a
proton-coupled importer that prefers Fe2þ, but is also involved in
Pb2þ and Cd2þ uptake (Bressler et al., 2004).
More recently, however, Cd influx by the ZIP8 and ZIP14
transporters was discovered (reviewed in [He et al., 2009]). The mouse
Slc39a8 gene encodes ZIP8, a divalent metal/bicarbonate
symporter involved in uptake of Zn2þ, Mn2þ, and Fe2þ (Dalton et al.,
2005; He et al., 2006; Liu et al., 2008). ZIP14, product of the mouse
Slc39a14 gene, exhibits strikingly similar functions to that of ZIP8;
both transport the electroneutral complex Zn2þ/(HCO3 )2, in
which Zn2þ can be displaced by Fe2þ or Mn2þ, as well as
nonessential metal cations including Cd2þ (Liu et al., 2008; Nebert et al.,
2012). Most important to this study, ZIP14 expression is highest in
GI tract and liver, whereas ZIP8 expression is highest in kidney,
lung, and testis (reviewed in [He et al., 2009]).
Other proteins of possible relevance to Cd uptake and
distribution include metallothioneins MT1 and MT2 (reviewed in
[Klaassen et al., 2009]) and the SLC30 (ZnT) divalent cation
effluxors (reviewed in [Huang and Tepaamorndech, 2013]). Each of
the 14 ZIP and the 10 ZnT transporters, as well as DMT1, MT1,
and MT2, are widely expressed, but often reveal strikingly
distinct tissue- or cell-type-specific expression. Currently, it is not
known whether any of the ZnT transporters are able to export
Cd from the cell.
The mouse genome contains 4 Mt genes encoding
metallothioneins (MTs). MT1 and MT2 are the most widely expressed,
rapidly induced by numerous metals, drugs and inflammatory
stimuli; MT3 exhibits specific neuronal growth-inhibitory
activity; MT4 is located in stratified epithelium (Coyle et al., 2002).
MTs are low-molecular-weight cysteine-rich proteins,
ubiquitous in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. MTs display potent
metalbinding, chelation, and redox capabilities. In GI tract and
pancreas, hypozincemia causes MT up-regulation. MT1 and MT2
participate in Zn homeostasis and regulation of metabolic
pathways, as well as protection against heavy metal toxicity (e.g.,
Cd) and other oxidant damage (Coyle et al., 2002).
Because ZIP14 appears to be the major participant in Cd
uptake from GI tract (Girijashanker et al., 2008; He et al., 2009), we
postulated that oral Cd-exposed Slc39a14( / ) KO mice (Hojyo
et al., 2011) might exhibit less Cd uptake and distribution in
proximal small intestine (PSI), liver, kidney, and lung. We tested
this hypothesis during 10 days of oral Cd. We examined
concomitantly Cd content, via inductively-coupled plasma mass
spectrometry (ICP-MS), and mRNA expression by quantitative
real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR)—of the DMT1
and 14 ZIP importers, 10 ZnT exporters, and MT1 and MT2. Our
results were different from what we had expected.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Chemicals. CdCl2 anhydrous (American Chemical
Society-certified), sucrose (reagent grade), and nitric acid and hydrogen
peroxide (trace-metal grade) were purchased from Fisher Scientific
Animals, Treatment, and Isolation of Organs. Four male and four
female Slc39a14(þ/ ) heterozygote breeders (having a “mixed”
genetic background, derived from B6 129þTer/SvJcl hybrid M1
ES cells [Hojyo et al., 2011]) were shipped from the Fukada
mouse colony (Yokohama, Japan); these mice were
continuously bred in the Nebert mouse colony (Cincinnati, OH). Dozens
of Slc39a14(þ/ ) Slc39a14(þ/ ) intercross matings resulted in
sufficient numbers of age-matched Slc39a14(þ/þ) wild-type
(WT), Slc39a14(þ/ ) heterozygote, and Slc39a14( / ) KO
littermates which were used in these studies. All mouse experiments
were conducted in accordance with the National Institutes of
Health standards for the care and use of experimental animals
and University Cincinnati Medical Center Institutional Animal
Care and Use Committee.
To male and female mice of all 3 genotypes, at 6–8 weeks of
age, we continuously administered Cd in drinking water
(0.4 mg/ml CdCl2 and 20 mg/ml sucrose) and sacrificed animals
(N ¼ 3 per genotype) at zero-time, 6 h, 12 h, and 1, 2, 5 and 10
days of treatment. No gender differences were observed. The
Cd-laced drinking water was changed every third day. Mice that
were sacrificed at 6 h were initially gavaged at zero-time with
Cd-laced water at a dose of 10 ml/g body weight and then
maintained with this type of water for the 6-h time-point. The
amounts of oral Cd exposure described herein caused no overt
histological or biochemical alterations. The Cd dose is
consistent with other studies in the literature. We added sucrose to
the drinking water in order to mask the metallic taste of Cd; this
ensured no decrease in water intake by the mice over the
10day experiment (Schneider et al., 2014).
Untreated animals of each genotype were used as controls;
Cd levels for controls (N ¼ 5 WT, N ¼ 7 Slc39a14(þ/ )
heterozygotes, and N ¼ 8 KO) represented the zero-time-points. For
confirmation, various time-points were repeated several times.
At each of the seven time-points, organs collected from
animals included: PSI, liver, kidney, and lung. PSI samples
represent the first 8 cm beyond the pyloric sphincter, i.e., duodenum
and portion of the proximal jejunum. Aliquots of 100 mg of
each organ were collected and immediately placed in dry ice.
These aliquots were then stored at 80 C until isolation of
mRNA. The rest of each organ was weighed and stored at 20 C
until preparation for Cd analysis.
Preparation of Tissues for Cd Analysis. At each time-point,
individual organs were placed in acid-washed glass digestion vials
(10% nitric acid) and pre-digested with 0.50 ml of 50% (v/v) HNO3
overnight in a closed container at 70 C; then 1.0 ml of 50% (v/v)
HNO3 and 1.0 ml of doubly deionized water were added, and the
samples were subjected to microwave digestion (300 W;
5.00min ramp time, 10.0-min hold time; 250 psi; 190 C), using the
CEM Explorer system equipped with the Discover auto-sampler
(Matthews, NC). To oxidize fat, liver samples were treated with
250 ml of hydrogen peroxide 30% (v/v) for a second digestion
step, using the same program conditions. Digested samples
were then diluted to 10.0 ml with doubly distilled water
containing a yttrium internal standard (100 mg/l).
Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry. An Agilent 7500ce
(Agilent Technologies; Tokyo, Japan) inductively coupled
plasma mass spectrometer, equipped with shielded-torch, and
collision/reaction-cell technology was used for the
elementspecific detection of 111Cd. The collision/reaction cell consisted
of an octopole-ion guide, operated in “rf-only” mode, which also
served to remove polyatomic interferences. Forward power was
1500 W (with shielded torch); plasma gas-flow rate was 15.6 l/
min; auxiliary gas-flow rate was 1.0 l/min; carrier gas-flow rate
was 1.00 l/min; the nebulizer was glass-expansion microcentric;
spray chamber (Scott double-channel) was kept at 2 C;
sampling depth was 8 mm; sampling and skimmer cones were
composed of nickel; dwell time was 0.10 s. Isotopes monitored for
these experiments included 111Cd, 66,68Zn, 57Fe, 63Cu, 55Mn, and
yttrium 89Y (internal standard). The octopole-reaction system
used helium (flow optimized before each experiment). All
experiments were blank-corrected (N ¼ 5); to validate the
results, three samples of DOR-3 (Fish Protein, Certified
Reference Material for Trace Metals, National Research Council
Canada) were digested and analyzed alongside the
experimental samples. Tissue Cd content was expressed in mg/g wet
weight of tissue.
Preparation of mRNA. With RNAzol VR RT (RN 190; Molecular
Research Center, Inc.; Cincinnati, OH), mRNA was isolated from
the four above-mentioned organs, following protocol
recommended by the vendor.
Reverse Transcription and qRT-PCR. The mRNA (1.0 mg) from each
sample was used as template for reverse transcription using the
iScript TM cDNA Synthesis Kit (170-8890, Bio-Rad Laboratories,
Richmond, CA) following protocol recommended by the vendor.
We performed qRT-PCR in the Bio-Rad DNA Engine Opticon
2TM (Bio-Rad Laboratories; Richmond, CA), using iQTM SYBR
Green Supermix (170-8882, Bio-Rad Laboratories).
The “housekeeping gene” tubulin a-1a mRNA (TUBA1A) was
employed as the internal control. Primers used to target all 14
ZIP mRNAs, 10 ZnT mRNAs, DMT1 mRNA, MT1 and MT2
mRNAs, and the TUBA1A internal control mRNA are listed in
Supplementary Table 1. The relative gene expression (RGE) of
different genotypes for each transporter was calculated with
respect to the control untreated WT [Slc39a14(þ/þ)], by applying
RGE for genotype ¼ 2[(Ct gene Ct TUBA1A)WT (Ct gene Ct
TUBA1A)Genotype]. Further details are provided in the figure
Statistical Analysis. Graphs and all calculations were generated
using Microsoft Windows Excel (Microsoft Corporation) and
SPSS 13.0 for Windows (2004, Apache Software Foundation).
Independent-sample t-tests were used to compare groups’
means, and Levene’s test was applied to evaluate equality of
variances. P values of <.05 were regarded as statistically
Constitutive Expression of Genes Possibly Relevant to Cd
Accumulation in PSI and Kidney
It should be emphasized that not all ZIP transporters, and even
fewer ZnT effluxors, have been sufficiently studied, especially
as far as divalent cation substrate-specificity. Hence, in any
particular organ or cell type in which a specific ZnT might be more
efficient at Cd efflux than ZIP importers are proficient at Cd
influx—this imbalance might contribute substantially to Cd
content in that organ or cell type. At the present time, however,
it is not known whether any of the ZnT transporters is efficient
at Cd efflux from any cell type.
The Unigene dbEST expressed-sequence tags database
[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/unigene] lists ubiquitous
expression: of all ZIP proteins (except ZIP2, ZIP5, and ZIP12); of ZnT1,
ZnT5, ZnT6, ZnT7, and ZnT9 proteins; and of DMT1, MT1, and
MT2 proteins. “Ubiquitous expression” is defined here as
“detected in substantial amounts from human, mouse and/or
rat cDNA libraries of intestine, liver, kidney, lung, and usually
10 or 20 other tissues/cell types”. ZIP2 is located only in embryo,
endocrine tissues, and brain. ZIP5 has been found in intestine,
liver, and kidney but not lung. ZIP12 is expressed in embryo,
kidney, and brain. ZnT2 and ZnT4 are found in intestine,
kidney, and lung but not liver. ZnT3 is located only in endocrine
tissues and brain. ZnT8 is expressed in liver, kidney, and lung
but not intestine. ZnT10 is expressed in intestine and liver but
not kidney or lung.
We first chose to measure mRNA levels of all 14 ZIP
importers, all 10 ZnT exporters, the DMT1 importer, and the MT1 and
MT2 chaperone proteins—in untreated mice. Because such a
systematic study had never before been carried out in the same
untreated animal species, we first wished to quantify the degree
of these pertinent mRNA levels for each of the 27 genes.
Analyzing by qRT-PCR and using TUBA1A mRNA (encoded
by housekeeping gene Tuba1a) as control in the same plate, we
sought to determine the extent of expression of these 27 genes
in PSI and kidney; large differences in constitutive mRNA levels
were seen (Fig. 1A and B; Supplementary Tables 2 and 3).
Including importers, exporters and metallothioneins (Table 1),
more genes were found to be highly constitutively expressed in
kidney (total of 21) than PSI (total of 15). On the other hand,
TABLE 1. Qualitative Summary of Cd-Relevant Genes
that are Highly Constitutively Expressed in (Untreated
WT) PSI versus Kidneya
aThe expression levels in PSI (Fig. 1A) can be seen below zero
(i.e., genes that are more highly expressed [– values] than
TUBA1A). In kidney (Fig. 1B), because TUBA1A shows lower Ct
counts (21.84 at threshold 0.97) than in PSI (24.57 at threshold
0.038), transporter genes that are highly expressed can be seen
below the value of þ3.2.
DMT1, MT1 and MT2 were all highly expressed in both PSI and
PSI and Kidney Constitutive Gene Expression in WT versus KO Mice
The next step was to compare constitutive mRNA levels of the
27 genes in PSI and kidney of untreated Slc39a14(þ/þ) WT to
that of untreated Slc39a14( / ) KO mice, to see if any of the
other 26 genes are up- or down-regulated when ZIP14
expression is globally ablated. Percent differences in KO gene
expression, when compared with WT, are illustrated for PSI in Fig. 2A.
As expected for the KO, ZIP14 expression was virtually 100%
absent. Most strikingly, DMT1 expression in KO was increased
more than 150%, suggesting that DMT1 in PSI might function
more prominently (presumably for endogenous substrates such
as Fe2þ or Zn2þ) when the Slc39a14 gene is absent. An 80%
increase in ZnT10 mRNA expression was also found. Curiously,
substantial decreases in ZnT1, ZnT4, and ZnT7 were observed
in ZIP14 KO mice; substantial decreases in ZnT3 and ZnT8
mRNA levels were also seen (Fig. 2A), but can be disregarded
because of their low copy-number abundance in PSI (Fig. 1A and
Supplementary Table 2).
In kidney (Fig. 2B), ZIP14 mRNA expression again was
virtually 100% absent, as expected. Of note, in the KO, renal
ZnT2 was diminished 66%, whereas MT1 and MT2 mRNAs
0 +2.0 +4.0 +6.0
Ct transporter − Ct TUBA1A (log 2)
0 +2.0 +4.0 +6.0
Ct transporter−Ct TUBA1A (log 2)
FIG. 1. The constitutive expression of each transport gene was compared with
that of a “housekeeping gene” that is strongly expressed in most tissues
(tubulin-1a; Tuba1a) by subtracting Ct counts of TUBA1A from Ct counts of the
respective gene at a fixed threshold. For each individual WT mouse, all genes and
TUBA1A from the tissue of interest were inspected simultaneously on the same
qRT-PCR plate. By using differences in Ct counts as our unit of comparison, we
show results in log 2 scale, either from genes that are less expressed (þ values)
or more expressed ( values) than TUBA1A. Open bars represent genes with high
Ct counts and no observable product (band) when the qRT-PCR final reaction
was examined on an agarose gel (Supplementary Tables 2 and 3). On the other
hand, closed bars denote genes that are expressed at some level (high, low or
intermediate). Abbreviations: WT, wild-type; qRT-PCR, quantitative real-time
polymerase chain reaction
were elevated 85% and 145%, respectively. Also, there was
a significant increase of 140% in ZnT10 mRNA expression
levels in kidney of the KO (Fig. 2B); this is particularly
intriguing because this exporter was not found to be
constitutively expressed in WT kidney (Fig. 1B and Supplementary
Comparison of Oral Cd Distribution in Four Tissues
Slc39a14(þ/þ) WT, Slc39a14(þ/ ) heterozygote, and Slc39a14
( / ) KO mice were provided drinking water containing Cd for
10 days (Fig. 3). PSI, liver, kidney, and lung from groups of mice
(N 3 per genotype) were collected at 0, 6 h, 12 h, and 1, 2, 5, and
10 days of exposure to oral Cd.
In PSI at most time-points (Fig. 3A), no significant differences
in Cd levels were seen between WT and heterozygotes;
however, Cd content in KO was statistically significantly lower at 2
days and higher at 10 days, compared with that in the other two
genotypes. For all three genotypes, we saw a general rise in Cd
levels up to 2 days, a substantial drop at 5 days, which began
Percent difference in mRNA levels in KO
relative to WT [ (KO WT) X 100 ]
Percent difference in mRNA levels in KO
relative to WT [ (KO WT) X 100 ]
FIG. 2. Relative gene expression (RGE) for the different genotypes (WT and KO)
were obtained by linearizing the average normalized Ct counts (with respect to
TUBA1A) for each genotype, using the untreated WT as control, and applying
this equation: RGE for genotype ¼ 2[(Ct gene Ct TUBA1A)WT (Ct gene Ct
RGE for WT is always 20 ¼ 1.0. The percent difference in gene expression of KO
relative to WT is (RGEKO RGEWT) 100. Open bars indicate genes with negligible
constitutive expression in WT (cf. Fig. 1). Abbreviations: WT, wild-type; KO,
to recover, perhaps slightly increasing at 10 days of oral Cd.
We did not see striking decreases in Cd content in PSI of
Slc39a14( / ) mice, compared with the other two genotypes; in
other words, genetic ablation of ZIP14, considered the main Cd
influxor in the GI tract (He et al., 2009), had little effect on Cd
concentration in this tissue. This pattern for Cd accumulation
in the KO GI tract might implicate participation of other Cd
transporter(s) in GI tract. However, as mentioned above, “Cd
uptake” and “Cd content” do not necessarily need to go
In liver (Fig. 3B), a steady rise in Cd content was similar
between WT and Slc39a14(þ/ ) mice, whereas rising Cd
concentrations were significantly lower in KO animals, especially at
the 5- and 10-day time-points. This pattern differs from that in
FIG. 3. Cd content in four tissues of Slc39a14(þ/þ), Slc39a14(þ/ ) and
Slc39a14( / ) mice at various time-points while ingesting Cd in drinking water.
Note the 20-fold variation in Cd concentrations on the ordinate. Symbols and
brackets denote means 6 S.E.M. Comparing KO with WT, significant P values
included: <.05 for liver (day 10), kidney (12 h and day 1), lung (day 5); <.02 for PSI
(day 2), kidney (day 2), lung (day 2); .01 for PSI (day 10), liver (day 1), kidney
(days 5 and 10), lung (6 and 12 h); and .001 for liver (day 5), lung (day 10).
Analysis included Student’s t-test and Levene’s test for equality-of-variance.
Abbreviations: WT, wild-type; KO, knockout
PSI but is consistent with our hypothesis, i.e., that ZIP14 is the
major transporter for Cd uptake in liver and no other hepatic
transporter assumes this function in the absence of ZIP14.
Intriguingly, a different pattern prevailed in kidney and lung
(Fig. 3C and D), except Cd accumulation in lung was 20-fold
lower than that in kidney. When compared with WT and
Slc39a14(þ/ ) kidney, KO kidney displayed higher Cd content,
from 12 h onward, reaching 3.5-fold greater amounts by 10
days. When compared with WT and Slc39a14(þ/ ) lung, KO
exhibited higher Cd levels, from 6 h onward, but reaching only
2-fold greater amounts by 10 days. This pattern is opposite to
that seen in liver. It is worth noting that the Cd-importer ZIP8 is
much more highly expressed than ZIP14 in both kidney and
lung (Girijashanker et al., 2008; He et al., 2009; Wang et al., 2007);
on the contrary, ZIP14 is much more highly expressed than ZIP8
in GI tract and liver (Girijashanker et al., 2008; He et al., 2009;
Wang et al., 2007).
How might ZIP14 ablation in these tissues lead to enhanced,
rather than diminished, Cd content? Over-expression of ZIP8 [or
other Cd influxor(s)], down-regulation of Cd effluxors, or
changes in MT chaperone levels, are 3 possible mechanisms
that might explain elevated Cd content—as a function of time
in oral Cd-treated KO, compared with that in WT and
Days of oral Cd
Slc39a14(þ/ ) mice. Hence, analysis of these mRNA levels,
following oral Cd exposure, was studied for the remainder of this
PSI Gene Expression in Oral Cd-Treated WT versus KO Mice
Because the patterns of Cd levels found in PSI and kidney (Fig. 3)
were different from what we had expected (i.e., kidney KO
showed greater Cd accumulation than WT, whereas PSI was not
remarkably different between KO and WT), we proceeded to
examine expression of these 27 genes in PSI and kidney
following exposure to oral Cd. Except for the thorough functional
characterization of Cd uptake by ZIP8 and ZIP14 (He et al., 2009)
and DMT1 (Shawki et al., 2012), and interactions of Cd with
metallothioneins (Babula et al., 2012; Freisinger and Vasak, 2013),
little is known about effects of oral Cd on the other 12 ZIP
importers as well as any of the 10 ZnT exporters—in either WT
mice or following ablation of the Slc39a14 gene.
In PSI (Fig. 4 and Supplementary Figure 1), with regard to
general expression patterns of most genes, we observed a fall in
mRNA levels at shorter time-points (i.e., 6 h to 2 days) of
exposure to oral Cd; this decline might reflect Cd-mediated toxicity
by way of oxidative stress (Go et al., 2014), which likely occurs
when Cd enters GI tract epithelial cells at early stages of oral Cd
exposure. A somewhat different pattern was seen with MT1 and
MT2 (Fig. 4): 6 h of oral Cd caused immediate increases in mRNA
levels, then a fall at 1 or 2 days, followed by a dramatic rise.
Beyond 2 days of oral Cd, there was a tendency for increased
expression for most of the 27 genes (Fig. 4 and Supplementary
Figure 1); in many cases there appeared to be a recovery, as
mRNA levels returned to those of untreated controls (e.g., ZIP5
and DMT1). However, others (e.g., ZnT4) presented a pattern of
sustained suppression, even at longer exposures to oral Cd. For
others such as MT1, MT2 (especially WT), and ZnT8 and ZIP2,
there were strong increases in mRNA levels at 5 days of Cd,
followed by decreases after 10 days of oral Cd. Of particular note is
the pattern of the ZnT8 effluxor, which is not expressed
constitutively in PSI (Fig. 1A and Table 1); ZnT8 expression in WT and
heterozygote was strikingly increased (25- and 15-fold,
respectively), but less so in the KO (Fig. 4). If ZnT8 were to function as a
Cd exporter, this dramatic increase in ZnT8 mRNA at 5 days of
Cd could explain the unexpected fall in Cd levels at this
Kidney Gene Expression in Oral Cd-Treated WT versus KO Mice
In kidney (Fig. 5 and Supplementary Figure 2), we chose to study
gene expression patterns in only the WT versus the KO, because
renal Cd content in Slc39a14(þ/ ) was found to be generally
very similar to that of the WT. Interestingly, the pattern of
decreased expression at short Cd exposures, followed by
recovery or slight increases at later time-points (i.e., which was
usually observed in PSI), was similar in kidney with few exceptions.
Notably, larger increases in MT1 and MT2 mRNA levels were
found, especially at the 5-day time-point, but, overall, KO mice
exhibited dramatically elevated levels of mRNA, when
compared with WT. MT1 and MT2 over-expression might be due to
greater accumulation of Cd in KO kidney, although the reason
for such MT induction by elevated Cd levels is not understood
(Babula et al., 2012). It is noteworthy that ZIP8, a principal
Days of oral Cd
importer of Cd in kidney (He et al., 2009; Wang et al., 2007), did
not show substantial changes in mRNA levels when Slc39a14
was globally ablated (Fig. 5).
Other Divalent Cations During These Experiments
Finally, in addition to Cd, we examined iron and zinc in PSI,
liver, kidney, and lung (data not shown). Untreated WT versus
KO, Cd-treated WT versus KO, and Cd-treated versus untreated
WT versus KO groups were compared. The only significant
differences were observed in lung and included: increased Fe in
Cd-treated versus untreated WT (P < 0.002), increased Fe in
Cdtreated versus untreated KO (P < 0.05), and a trend in decreased
Zn in Cd-treated versus untreated KO (P ¼ 0.061).
Comparing oral Cd-treated ZIP14 KO mice with WT, we had
postulated that Cd uptake and distribution might be decreased
in the KO—due to the Cd-importer ZIP14 being very highly
expressed in GI tract and liver. This is indeed what was
observed for Cd content in liver, but was not found in kidney
or lung from 6 or 12 h throughout 10 days of Cd exposure (Fig. 3);
at these time-points, Cd accumulation was significantly greater
in KO than in mice carrying 1 or 2 copies of the Slc39a14 gene.
During oral Cd exposure, most Cd will go first through the portal
vein to liver. Because ZIP14 is a major Cd uptake transporter in
hepatocytes, KO mice would likely accumulate less Cd in liver—
resulting in more Cd remaining in the blood, which could lead
to higher accumulation of Cd in other tissues, namely kidney
Thus, mRNA levels of all 14 ZIP and all 10 ZnT transporters,
the DMT1 importer, and MT1 and MT2 chaperone proteins were
thoroughly examined in PSI versus kidney to see if these
paradoxical effects of increased, rather than decreased, Cd content
in the KO could be explained by compensatory up-regulation of
any of the other 26 genes. Constitutive mRNA levels were first
assessed in PSI and kidney of untreated WT and compared with
that in KO mice. Changes in mRNA levels in oral Cd-treated WT
versus KO mice were then evaluated.
PSI genes highly expressed in untreated WT animals
included ZIP1, ZIP4, ZIP5, ZIP7, ZIP9, ZIP11, ZIP14, ZnT4, ZnT5,
ZnT7, ZnT9, ZnT10, DMT1, MT1, and MT2. Kidney genes highly
expressed in untreated WT animals included ZIP1, ZIP3, ZIP5,
ZIP6, ZIP7, ZIP8, ZIP9, ZIP10, ZIP11, ZIP13, ZIP14, ZnT1,
ZnT2, ZnT4, ZnT5, ZnT6, ZnT7, ZnT9, DMT1, MT1, and MT2 (Fig.
1 and Table 1). These constitutive-level results are generally in
good agreement with those listed in the Unigene dbEST
described earlier. However, there were two exceptions to the
data in dbEST: we did not find ZIP12 or ZnT8 in kidney (Fig. 1B
and Table 1).
In PSI, constitutive DMT1 expression levels were
substantially up-regulated, and ZnT1 down-regulated, in KO compared
with that in WT mice (Fig. 2A). In kidney, constitutive MT1, MT2,
and ZnT10 expression was substantially up-regulated, and
ZnT2 down-regulated, in KO compared with that in WT mice
Bimodal Response Following Cd Exposure
Over the 10-day period of oral Cd, a bimodal curve was
commonly seen for Cd content in PSI (Fig. 3), and for the levels of
various mRNAs encoded by the importer, exporter, and MT1
and MT2 chaperone protein genes (Figs. 4 and 5; Supplementary
Figures 1 and 2). The first phase of increased Cd content in PSI
peaked at 2 days; the first phase of increased MT1 and MT2
mRNA levels occurred at 6–12 h, whereas the first phase of most
of the ZIP and ZnT mRNA levels was one of down-regulation
during the first 6 h to 1 or 2 days.
In PSI striking changes in certain mRNA levels, usually
peaking at 5 days, were also seen, e.g., ZIP7, MT1, ZnT8, ZIP14 (Fig. 2),
ZIP2, ZIP3, ZIP4, ZIP11, ZIP13, ZnT1, ZnT2, ZnT3, ZnT10
(Supplementary Figure 1). In liver, kidney, and lung we saw
continued rates of increased Cd content in all 3 genotypes rather
than any bimodal distribution (Fig. 3). Substantial changes in
certain renal mRNA levels, again usually peaking at 5 days,
were also seen, e.g., ZnT1, MT1, MT2 (Fig. 5), and ZIP4, ZIP7,
ZIP9, ZIP11, ZIP13, ZnT3, DMT1 (Supplementary Figure 2). These
data appear to be consistent with GI tract being the direct
portal-of-entry for oral Cd; then, subsequently, liver, kidney, and
lung represent downstream targets indirectly receiving Cd via
Hence, the first phase (6 h to 1 or 2 days of oral Cd) might
represent “Cd shock”, i.e., intracellular oxidative stress (Go et al.,
2014) when the animal receives its first bolus of oral Cd. The
second phase might be the time for cells to begin adapting to
subacute oral Cd-mediated adversity by up- or down-regulating
relevant transporter and chaperone genes to combat this
Altered Gene Expression in KO Mouse Lines
In many transgenic models, modifications in gene-expression
profiles have been reported in mice having one or another gene
genetically removed (Bonzo et al., 2012; Chaudhry et al., 2013;
Nebert et al., 2013; Smith et al., 2003; Tsutsui et al., 2010; Wang
et al., 2013). There are two fundamental reasons for these
changes to occur.
First, a similar gene (redundant or overlapping in function) is
“called upon” to take the place of the missing gene, i.e., a
compensatory response. Examples include up-regulation of Gsx1
and Gsx2 homeobox genes in the Dlx1/2( / ) homeobox
gene double-KO mouse (Wang et al., 2013), up-regulation of
CYP1B1 in GI tract of Cyp1a1( / ) KO mice and up-regulation of
CYP3A59 in preputial gland duct of Cyp1a1/1b1( / ) double-KO
mice (Nebert et al., 2013), and up-regulation of Cyp2b genes in
Cyp2e1( / ) KO mice [F. J. Gonzalez, personal communication].
Second, the ablated gene results in downstream effects of
altered gene expression. Examples of such effects include
modification of lipid homeostasis genes in Cyp1a2( / ) mice (Smith
et al., 2003), cardiovascular developmental homeostasis in the
Nos1/2/3( / ) triple-KO (Tsutsui et al., 2010), hepatic
developmental homeostasis in the Hnf4a( / ) liver-specific conditional
knockout (Bonzo et al., 2012), and changes in hepatic P450
enzyme profile when AKR1D1 is over-expressed versus
underexpressed (Chaudhry et al., 2013). Our unexpected finding of
increased, rather than decreased, Cd accumulation in
Slc39a14( / ) KO kidney and lung, compared with that in WT, is
therefore another example of an unanticipated result detected
in a KO mouse study.
Conclusions and Future Directions
A major component of this study was to establish constitutive,
as well as oral Cd-induced, changes in expression of any of
the ZIP, ZnT and DMT1 transporter genes or MT1 or MT2
chaperone genes when the Slc39a14 gene is absent from the
genome. Our study thus sheds light on our current
understanding of endogenous divalent cation transport in untreated mice,
as well as Cd uptake and distribution kinetics following oral Cd.
Moreover, further experiments are suggested. For example,
does the absence of ZIP14 in PSI, resulting in up-regulation
of constitutive DMT1 expression (Fig. 2A), reflect a
compensatory requirement for DMT1 such as importing Zn2þ, Fe2þ
or Mn2þ from the GI tract? In PSI would substantial
downregulation of constitutive ZnT1 expression in Slc39a14( / )
mice (Fig. 2A) reflect an obligatory decrease in efflux of
endogenous substrates such as Zn2þ, Fe2þ or Mn2þ? In kidney (Fig. 2B)
what is the significance of substantial up-regulation of MT1
and MT2 and down-regulation of ZnT2 constitutive mRNA
levels when ZIP14 is absent? We suspect that these alterations
in constitutive gene expression might reflect compensatory
changes to substitute for loss of ZIP14 function in the PSI
There are limited studies on comparisons of Zn2þ and Cd2þ
uptake, as well as Cd effects on the 27 genes studied herein.
It has been reported, for example, that Cd increased MT1, MT2,
and ZnT1 expression in human HepG2 hepatoma cell cultures
(Urani et al., 2010) and Cd enhanced MT2 in rat uterus and
placenta and Cd elevated ZIP14, ZnT2 and DMT1 expression in rat
placenta (Nakamura et al., 2012). To date, there are no studies
looking at possible Cd efflux from any cell type by any of the
10 ZnT effluxors. Mammalian ZnT proteins have been found to
efflux Zn2þ, but not Cd2þ; by examining a bacterial ZnT
ortholog that does not discriminate between the two cations,
(Hoch et al., 2012) suggested that a histidine at the ZnT active
site might be critical for refined metal transport selectivity
When oral Cd is given to WT versus ZIP14 KO mice, we
observed during the first 6 h to 2 days of exposure an acute “Cd
shock” response to the toxic metal (mRNA up- and
down-regulation of specific transporter and chaperone genes). This was
followed by a subacute response of these genes, between 2 and
10 days) when oral Cd was continuously administered (Figs. 4
and 5; Supplementary Figures 1 and 2). Further experiments
(e.g., DNA-methylation activities of Cd-relevant genes,
miRNA participation, and RNA-Seq analysis) will be necessary
to understand in more detail the reasons for our observed
biphasic response to oral Cd in WT versus Slc39a14( / )
Supplementary data are available online at http://toxsci.
National Institutes of Health (Grants R01 ES010416 to
D.W.N., T32 ES016646 to M.G.-P., and P30 ES06096 to D.W.N.).
We thank our colleagues, especially Lei He and Alvaro Puga,
for valuable discussions and careful reading of this
manuscript. We appreciate very much the expert graphics help by
Marian L. Miller, Professor Emerita. None of the coauthors
has any conflicts of interest to disclose.
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