Metallothionein: An Overview on its Metal Homeostatic Regulation in Mammals

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Natthiya Sakulsak


Metallothionein (MT) is a ubiquitous protein with a low molecular weight of 6-7 kDa weight and it was first identified in the kidney cortex of equines as a cadmium (Cd)-binding protein responsible for the natural accumulation of Cd in the tissue. The mammalian MT contains 61 to 68 amino acid residues, in which 18 to 23 cysteine residues are present. The expression of MT starts by binding of metal transcription factor-1 (MTF-1) to the regulative region of MT gene called metal responsive elements (MREs). The induction of MT through the MREs region can be initiated by several metal ions such as zinc (Zn), copper (Cu) and Cd. However, Zn is the only heavy metal which can reversibly and directly activate the DNA-binding activity of MTF-1. In mammals four types of MT are expressed and they are termed metallothionein-1 (MT1), metallothionein-2 (MT2), metallothionein-3 (MT3), and metallothionein-4 (MT4). MT1 and MT2 are expressed in almost all tissues while MT3 and MT4 are tissue-specific. MT is a key compound involved in the intracellular handling of a variety of essential and nonessential post-transitional metal ions. In order to the heavy metal binding ability of MT, it is suggested to play roles both in the intracellular fixation of essential trace elements Zn and Cu, in controlling the concentrations, and in neutralizing the harmful influences of exposure to toxic elements.

KEY WORDS: Metallothionein; Cadmium; Zinc.

How to cite this article

SAKULSAK, N. Metallothionein: an overview on its metal homeostatic regulation in mammals. Int. J. Morphol., 30(3):1007-1012, 2012.