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Am J Pathol. 2002 Jun;160(6):2267-74.

Metallothionein-independent zinc protection from alcoholic liver injury.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky 40202, USA.


Previous studies using metallothionein (MT)-overexpressing transgenic mice have demonstrated that MT protects the liver from oxidative injury induced by alcohol. The mechanism of action of MT is unknown. Because MT primarily binds to zinc under physiological conditions and releases zinc under oxidative stress and zinc is an antioxidant element, it is likely that zinc mediates the protective action of MT. The present study was undertaken to determine the distinct role of zinc in hepatic protection from alcoholic injury. MT I/II-knockout (MT-KO) mice along with their wild-type controls were treated with three gastric doses of ethanol at 5 g/kg at 12-hour intervals. Zinc sulfate was injected intraperitoneally in a dosage of 5 mg/kg/day for 3 days before ethanol treatment. MT concentrations in MT-KO mice were very low and zinc concentrations in MT-KO mice were lower than in wild-type mice. Zinc treatment significantly elevated hepatic MT concentrations only in wild-type mice and increased zinc concentrations in both MT-KO and wild-type mice. Ethanol treatment caused degenerative morphological changes and necrotic appearance in the livers of MT-KO mice. Microvesicular steatosis was the only ethanol-induced change in the liver of wild-type mice. Ethanol treatment decreased hepatic glutathione concentrations and increased hepatic lipid peroxidation, and the concentrations of lipid peroxide products in the wild-type mice were lower than in the MT-KO mice. All of these alcohol-induced toxic responses were significantly suppressed by zinc treatment in both MT-KO and wild-type mouse livers. These results demonstrate that zinc, independent of MT, plays an important role in protection from alcoholic liver injury. However, MT is required to maintain high levels of zinc in the liver, suggesting that the protective action of MT in the liver is likely mediated by zinc.

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