Role of metallothionein and other antioxidants in scavenging superoxide radicals and their possible role in neuroprotection

Neurochem Int. 1996 Aug;29(2):145-52. doi: 10.1016/0197-0186(95)00114-x.


Based on the inhibition of nitrite formation by generating superoxide from xanthine/xanthine oxidase (X/XO) reaction system, metallothionein (MT) and other sulfhydryl containing amino acids have been selected to test their abilities to scavenge superoxide radicals. Different concentrations of metallothionein and other sulfhydryl containing molecules e.g. cysteine, N-acetyl-cysteine and glutathione, were used to assess superoxide scavenging properties. Metallothionein scavenges superoxide radical in a dose-dependent manner with increasing concentrations as evidenced by the inhibition of nitrite formation. Similar abilities to scavenge superoxide radicals were shown by cysteine, N-acetyl-cysteine. Glutathione also scavenges superoxide radical in a dose-dependent manner. In vitro experiments demonstrated that metallothionein is superior in scavenging superoxide radicals compared to other sulfhydryl molecules such as cysteine, N-acetyl-cysteine and even glutathione. The data, further, suggest that metallothionein-II has a 6-fold higher capacity to scavenge superoxide radical than metallothionein-I. In addition, metallothionein-like protein was isolated from different regions of mouse brain treated with zinc. Brain metallothionein-like protein inhibits nitrite formation as demonstrated by other scavengers; however, the extent of inhibition is different by this protein isolated from different brain regions. The present study suggests that metallothioneins and metallothionein-like proteins isolated from mouse brain act as neuroprotective agents by scavenging superoxide radicals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Free Radical Scavengers*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Male
  • Metallothionein / isolation & purification
  • Metallothionein / metabolism*
  • Metallothionein / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nervous System Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Nitrites / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nitrites / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Nitrites
  • Superoxides
  • Metallothionein
  • Glutathione
  • Cysteine
  • Acetylcysteine