Background: The cellular mechanisms that underlie metal toxicity and detoxification are rather variegated and incompletely understood. Genomic phenotyping was used to assess the roles played by all nonessential Saccharomyces cerevisiae proteins in modulating cell viability after exposure to cadmium, nickel, and other metals.
Results: A number of novel genes and pathways that affect multimetal as well as metal-specific tolerance were discovered. Although the vacuole emerged as a major hot spot for metal detoxification, we also identified a number of pathways that play a more general, less direct role in promoting cell survival under stress conditions (for example, mRNA decay, nucleocytoplasmic transport, and iron acquisition) as well as proteins that are more proximally related to metal damage prevention or repair. Most prominent among the latter are various nutrient transporters previously not associated with metal toxicity. A strikingly differential effect was observed for a large set of deletions, the majority of which centered on the ESCRT (endosomal sorting complexes required for transport) and retromer complexes, which - by affecting transporter downregulation and intracellular protein traffic - cause cadmium sensitivity but nickel resistance.
Conclusion: The data show that a previously underestimated variety of pathways are involved in cadmium and nickel tolerance in eukaryotic cells. As revealed by comparison with five additional metals, there is a good correlation between the chemical properties and the cellular toxicity signatures of various metals. However, many conserved pathways centered on membrane transporters and protein traffic affect cell viability with a surprisingly high degree of metal specificity.