Protective effect of metallothionein against the toxicity of cadmium and other metals(1)

Toxicology. 2001 Jun 21;163(2-3):93-100. doi: 10.1016/s0300-483x(01)00375-4.


Metallothionein (MT) is a small-molecular weight, cysteine-rich protein that binds metals. The protective role of MT in Cd toxicity is well established but its ability to protect against toxicity of other metals remains unclear. In this study, wild-type and MT-I and -II null mice (MT-null mice) were used to determine whether MT is protective against the lethality of not only Cd but also Zn, Cu, Fe, Pb, Hg and As. Following daily subcutaneous administration of an increasing dose of each metal, starting with a low, non-toxic dose, we compared the cumulative median lethal dose (LD(50)) of each metal between wild-type and MT-null mice. The LD(50) of Cd for wild-type mice was 6.9-fold higher than for MT-null mice. The LD(50) of Zn was 2.4-fold higher for wild-type mice than for MT-null mice, and 1.4-fold higher for Cu and As. The LD(50) of Hg was 1.3-fold higher for wild-type mice than for MT-null mice, but this was not statistically significant. No difference in LD(50) values was observed between wild-type and MT-null mice following Pb and Fe administration. These results suggest that MT is an important protein in the cellular defense against Cd toxicity and lethality, but it provides much less protection against the lethality of the other metals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Cadmium / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Cadmium Chloride / administration & dosage
  • Cadmium Chloride / toxicity
  • Copper / toxicity
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Iron / toxicity
  • Lead / toxicity
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Mercury / toxicity
  • Metallothionein / deficiency*
  • Metals / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Metals / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Zinc / toxicity


  • Metals
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Metallothionein
  • Iron
  • Mercury
  • Zinc
  • Cadmium Chloride
  • Arsenic