Metallothionein overexpression in human trophoblastic cells protects against cadmium-induced apoptosis

In Vitr Mol Toxicol. 2001 Spring;14(1):25-42. doi: 10.1089/109793301316882522.


Proper functioning of trophoblastic cells is essential for maintenance of the placenta and development of the embryo/fetus. Exposure of trophoblasts to toxic exogenous factors, such as cadmium (Cd), perturbs placental function and affects fetal outcome. Cellular responses to Cd exposure include induction of the metal-binding protein, metallothionein (MT), and initiation of apoptosis. To analyze the functional relationship between cellular MT levels and apoptosis in trophoblasts, we have examined the effects of DNA transfection-mediated alterations in MT levels on trophoblastic function and apoptosis, with and without Cd exposure, using the trophoblast-like JEG-3 human choriocarcinoma cell line. JEG-3 cells stably transfected with human MT-IIa cDNA expression constructs, in either sense or antisense orientation, were unchanged in human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) production or expression of the apoptotic markers, bcl-2 and CPP-32. However, MT overexpression significantly prolonged the recovery time of intracellular Ca flux, whereas reduced basal MT increased the incidence of apoptosis as determined by morphology and terminal deoxynucleotidyl end labeling (TUNEL) staining. Upon Cd exposure, a dose-dependent decrease in hCG secretion was seen in all JEG-3 cultures, without any correlation to basal MT expression. Basal MT levels, however, significantly affected the extent of apoptosis, the incidence being inversely related to basal MT level. These results suggest that while MT does not ameliorate heavy-metal induced perturbation of some trophoblastic functions, its expression is critical for protection of these cells from Cd-induced apoptosis and could act to maintain placental integrity in cases of maternal Cd exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / analysis
  • Choriocarcinoma / genetics
  • Choriocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / analysis
  • Culture Media, Conditioned / chemistry
  • DNA Damage
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Metallothionein / biosynthesis*
  • Metallothionein / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transfection
  • Trophoblasts / drug effects
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism*
  • Trophoblasts / pathology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Chorionic Gonadotropin
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Cadmium
  • Metallothionein
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases