Oxidative stress is involved in the pathogenesis of diabetes and its cardiovascular complications. Metallothionein (MT), a stress-response protein, is significantly increased in the liver and kidney of diabetic animals. We examined whether diabetes also induces cardiac MT synthesis through oxidative damage and whether MT overexpression protects the heart from injury. Diabetes was induced in mice by single injection of streptozotocin (STZ), and cardiac MT mRNA and protein levels were measured 2 weeks and 2 months after STZ treatment. Diabetes significantly increased cardiac MT synthesis 2 weeks and 2 months after STZ treatment, with no change in cardiac metals including zinc, copper, and iron. Serum and cardiac vasopeptide endothelin and inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor-alpha were also significantly increased in diabetic hearts, as were the ratio of oxidized to reduced glutathione and the immunohistochemical staining of 3-nitrotyrosine and 4-hydroxynonenal. To explore the biological importance of increased MT synthesis in the heart, MT-overexpressing transgenic mice were treated with STZ and then examined 2 months later. A loss of inotropic reserve, uncovered during beta-adrenergic stimulation, and the presence of cardiac fibrosis, shown by increased Sirius red staining of collagen, were evident in the wild-type diabetic mice but not in the MT-overexpressing transgenic diabetic mice. These results suggest that diabetes-induced cardiac MT expression likely associates with systemic increases in endothelin-1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha and the resulting cardiac oxidative stress. Overexpressing cardiac MT significantly protects the heart from diabetes-induced injury.