Intestinal uptake and transport of cadmium (Cd) to different organs were studied in control and oral zinc pretreated rats using an in situ intestinal loop model. Intestinal loop was incubated with either CdCl2 or Cd-metallothionein (Cd-MT) for 30 and 60 min in rats under anesthesia. Induction of MT by oral Zn pretreatment had little effect on intestinal uptake of Cd ion. However, when intestinal loop was incubated with exogenous Cd-MT, the uptake of Cd was significantly smaller than that from CdCl2 incubation. About 50% of the Cd in the intestine of control rat after CdCl2 incubation was recovered in the cytosol fraction and bound to high-molecular-weight (greater than 60 kDa) proteins. In both Zn pretreated rats incubated with CdCl2 and control rats incubated with Cd-MT, Cd was mostly recovered in the intestinal cytosol fraction (75-85%) and was mainly bound to MT. After 60 min incubation of control intestinal loop with CdCl2. Cd was detected mainly in liver with small amounts in kidney and pancreas: with Cd-MT incubation, Cd was detected only in the kidney. The deposition of Cd in the liver was markedly decreased by Zn pretreatment. Both the uptake of Cd-MT by intestine and the induction of MT synthesis in the intestine by Zn pretreatment were demonstrated by immunohistochemistry using a specific antibody to rat liver MT. The results suggest a slow uptake of exogenous Cd-MT from the intestine and transport to kidney in contrast to deposition of Cd in the liver from CdCl2. Although the intracellular presence of MT does not affect the uptake of Cd from lumen, it may decrease both the release of Cd from the intestine and its deposition in liver.