The ontogeny of expression of murine metallothionein: comparison with the alpha-fetoprotein gene

Dev Biol. 1984 Jun;103(2):294-303. doi: 10.1016/0012-1606(84)90317-8.


The ontogeny of expression of mouse metallothionein was studied by RNA dot and Northern blot hybridization using a cloned cDNA probe. In some instances the synthesis of metallothionein was analyzed by cell-free translation of RNA as well as pulse-labeling of proteins in short-term organ cultures followed by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Interesting parallels between metallothionein and alpha-fetoprotein gene expression during development were noted. Like alpha-fetoprotein mRNA ( Dziadek and Andrews, 1983), metallothionein mRNA was found to be abundant in developing liver as well as in visceral yolk sac endoderm. In addition, metallothionein mRNA was abundant in parietal yolk sac. During liver development metallothionein and alpha-fetoprotein mRNAs were abundant by Day 12 of gestation, increasing to maximal levels on Day 16 and decreasing during late fetal and neonatal life to basal levels in adult. Metallothionein mRNA increased in maternal liver and was also abundant in certain hepatomas. Synthesis of metallothionein and levels of metallothionein mRNA in visceral yolk sac increased from Day 9 of gestation to maximal levels on Days 11-12 and then decreased abruptly after Day 15. RNA from differentiated teratocarcinoma cells with primitive, parietal or visceral endoderm characteristics each contained high levels of metallothionein mRNA, whereas, levels of this mRNA varied widely among embryonal carcinoma stem cell lines. alpha-Fetoprotein mRNA was not detected in embryonal carcinoma cells but was expressed in visceral endoderm-like differentiated cells. These results indicate that parietal and visceral endoderm cells actively express the metallothionein gene and further suggest that expression may be initiated at the earlier stage of primitive endoderm.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell-Free System
  • DNA
  • Female
  • Fetus / analysis
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Growth*
  • Liver / analysis
  • Liver / embryology
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / analysis
  • Metallothionein / biosynthesis
  • Metallothionein / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis*
  • Teratoma / analysis
  • Yolk Sac / analysis
  • alpha-Fetoproteins / genetics*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • alpha-Fetoproteins
  • DNA
  • Metallothionein