Zinc, antioxidant systems and metallothionein in metal mediated-apoptosis: biochemical and cytochemical aspects

Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2007 Nov;146(4):443-59. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpc.2007.07.010. Epub 2007 Aug 1.


Copper, zinc and iron are essential metals for different physiological functions, even though their excess can lead to biological damage. This review provides a background of toxicity related to copper, iron and zinc excess, biological mechanisms of their homeostasis and their respective roles in the apoptotic process. The antioxidant action of metallothionein has been highlighted by summarizing the most important findings that confirm the role of zinc in cellular protection in relation to metallothionein expression and apoptotic processes. In particular, we show that a complex and efficient antioxidant system, the induction of metallothionein and the direct action of zinc have protective roles against oxidative damage and the resulting apoptosis induced by metals with redox proprieties. In addition, to emphasize the protective effects of Zn and Zn-MT in Cu and Fe-mediated oxidative stress-dependent apoptosis, some aspects of apoptotic cell death are shown. The most widely used cytochemical techniques also have been examined in order to critically evaluate the available data from a methodological point of view. The observations on the role of Zn and MT could potentially develop new applications for this metal and MT in biomedical research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Line
  • Copper / toxicity
  • Histocytochemistry / methods
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Iron / toxicity
  • Metallothionein / biosynthesis*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Zinc / pharmacology*


  • Antioxidants
  • Copper
  • Metallothionein
  • Iron
  • Oxidoreductases
  • Zinc