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J Biol Inorg Chem. 2008 Mar;13(3):401-9. Epub 2007 Dec 12.

Thionein/metallothionein control Zn(II) availability and the activity of enzymes.

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Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77555, USA.


Fundamental issues in zinc biology are how proteins control the concentrations of free Zn(II) ions and how tightly they interact with them. Since, basically, the Zn(II) stability constants of only two cytosolic zinc enzymes, carbonic anhydrase and superoxide dismutase, have been reported, the affinity for Zn(II) of another zinc enzyme, sorbitol dehydrogenase (SDH), was determined. Its log K is 11.2 +/- 0.1, which is similar to the log K values of carbonic anhydrase and superoxide dismutase despite considerable differences in the coordination environments of Zn(II) in these enzymes. Protein tyrosine phosphatase 1B (PTP 1B), on the other hand, is not classified as a zinc enzyme but is strongly inhibited by Zn(II), with log K = 7.8 +/- 0.1. In order to test whether or not metallothionein (MT) can serve as a source for Zn(II) ions, it was used to control free Zn(II) ion concentrations. MT makes Zn(II) available for both PTP 1B and the apoform of SDH. However, whether or not Zn(II) ions are indeed available for interaction with these enzymes depends on the thionein (T) to MT ratio and the redox poise. At ratios [T/(MT + T) = 0.08-0.31] prevailing in tissues and cells, picomolar concentrations of free Zn(II) are available from MT for reconstituting apoenzymes with Zn(II). Under conditions of decreased ratios, nanomolar concentrations of free Zn(II) become available and affect enzymes that are not zinc metalloenzymes. The match between the Zn(II) buffering capacity of MT and the Zn(II) affinity of proteins suggests a function of MT in controlling cellular Zn(II) availability.

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