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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2006 Jan;30(1):15-25.

Analysis of metallothionein brain gene expression in relation to ethanol preference in mice using cosegregation and gene knockouts.

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Molecular Genetics Unit, Department of Biology and Division of Medical Genetics, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada N6A 5B7.



Metallothioneins (MTs) are ubiquitously expressed intracellular proteins that bind heavy metals and are involved in cytoprotection against several types of stress agents including chemicals, hormones, and oxidants. We have previously reported 1 isoform, MT-II, as a possible candidate gene for ethanol (EtOH) preference (EP) determination in mice.


Semiquantitative RT-PCR was used to determine brain mRNA levels of MT-I and MT-III in 4 inbred mouse strains with variable EP. Following this, cosegregation of MT-II brain expression with EP was analyzed in F2 mice from 2 intercrosses (C57BL/6J x BALB/cJ and C57BL/6J x DBA/2J). Studies on MT-I/MT-II knockout (KO) mice were also undertaken to further explore this relationship.


Our results suggest that MT-I is responsive to EtOH, with no evidence of basal-level differences between strains. Conversely, MT-III shows no EtOH response, yet indicates a possible strain-specific feature with C57BL/6J having the lowest levels of brain MT-III. Metallothionein-II expression cosegregates with EP in F2 mice from a C57BL/6J (preferring) and DBA/2J (avoiding) intercross. Although F2 mice from a cross with C57BL/6J and BALB/cJ (avoiding) strains follow a similar pattern, the results are not statistically significant. Metallothionein-I/MT-II knockout (MT-KO) mice appear to have smaller litter sizes as well as higher weight compared with controls (129S1/SvImJ) and also show a slight increase in EP.


Metallothionein-II remains the primary candidate of the mouse MT gene family for involvement in EP. Its effect on EP appears to be dependent on the genetic background. Such conclusions are based on results from C57BL/6J, BALB/cJ, DBA/2J, and 129 inbred mouse strains. Evidence also points to shared neural pathways involved in weight gain and obesity. The complex interactions between MT-II, EP, and weight gain/obesity remain to be studied.

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