The antiapoptotic and mitogenic responses of metallothionein (MT) have been well documented in vitro. While MT protein overexpression, frequently encountered in a number of human primary tumors, has been shown to be correlated with disease progression, little information is available on the in vivo isoform expression of MT. In this study we have demonstrated the occurrence of MT proteins and further defined their differential expression profile in human primary renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Pooled normal human kidney RNA and paired biopsy specimens (tumor and control) obtained from 11 patients diagnosed with RCC with tumor grade ranging from 1-3 and a pathological staging of T2-T3 (N0M0) were used for the study. Samples were analyzed for the presence of MT protein using immunohistochemical (IHC) analysis and for MT isoform-specific mRNA expression by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Metallothionein protein assumed both cytoplasmic and nuclear staining in cancer cells and was detected in eight of 11 samples (72%) with polyclonal antibodies. The immunoreactivity of MT protein, but not its cellular localization, in RCC specimens suggests a relationship between and advanced disease. While alterations in the basal level of expression of MT-1E, MT-1F and MT-1X genes remained unchanged, significant up-regulation of MT-2A and down-regulation of MT-1A and MT-1G transcripts was observed in RCC tissue specimens when compared with controls. Intriguingly, the paired RCC biopsy specimens had lower MT-1H transcripts than pooled normal human controls. We here provide the first report of the differential expression of MT isoforms in human RCC and that this data further support the role of MT-2A in tumorigenesis.