Metallothioneins (MTs) are a family of low molecular weight proteins which in rodents is comprised of several isoforms (MT-I to MT-IV). MT-I and MT-II are widely expressed isoforms, whereas MT-III is mainly expressed in the central nervous system and is the only isoform that inhibits survival and neurite formation of rat cortical neurons in vitro. However, the physiological roles and regulation of these proteins in the brain are poorly characterized. In this report we have studied the putative role of IL-6 and TNF-alpha on the regulation of brain MT-I and MT-III, by using mice carrying a null mutation in the IL-6 or the TNF-alpha type 1 receptor genes or both. In situ hybridization analysis revealed that brain MT-I induction by bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) was significantly lower in IL-6- and TNFR1-deficient mice, and to a greater extent in the double mutant mice, in most brain areas studied. These results suggest that the MT-I isoform could be considered an acute-phase protein in the brain, which is consistent with previous studies in transgenic mice overexpressing IL-6 in astrocytes. In contrast to LPS, brain MT-I induction by restraint stress was not affected significantly by IL-6 or TNFR1 deficiencies, suggesting that these cytokines are not important during the stress response in the brain. In basal conditions, it was also observed that the double mutant mice had diminished MT-I mRNA levels in several brain areas. In contrast to MT-I, MT-III mRNA levels were minimally affected by either LPS or stress. Yet, significant decreasing effects of IL-6 and TNFR1 deficiencies were observed in the Purkinje neuronal layer of the cerebellum (after LPS) and ependymal cells (after LPS and stress). In contrast, significant increasing effects, especially of TNFR1 deficiency, were observed in CA1 hippocampal area, retrosplenial and parietal cortex, and in thalamic nuclei (after LPS). These results demonstrate that IL-6 and TNF-alpha are involved in brain MTs regulation during LPS-elicited inflammatory response but not during the stress response.