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Environ Health Perspect. 1994 Sep;102 Suppl 3:27-9.

Evidence for radical species as intermediates in cadmium/zinc-metallothionein-dependent DNA damage in vitro.

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INBIFO Institut für biologische Forschung, Köln, Federal Republic of Germany.


Toxicologic data on cadmium (Cd) indicate that intracellular metallothionein (MT) is protective for Cd exposure, whereas extracellular Cd-containing MT might be toxic. Moreover, Cd is suspected to be a carcinogen though the underlying mechanism is not known. Here we report on the genotoxic activity of cadmium/zinc-metallothionein (Cd/Zn-MT) in a cell-free test system: a concentration-dependent increase in DNA strand breaks was detected with increasing doses of Cd/Zn-MT, whereas no DNA strand breaks were observed in the presence of heat-denatured MT or Cd or Zn ions alone. Modifications of native Cd/Zn-MT by the metal ion-chelating agent EDTA or the sulfhydryl group alkylating agents N-ethylmaleimide and iodoacetamide suggest that the various cysteine residues of MT, together with the attached heavy metal ions, may be involved in the DNA cleavage reaction. Furthermore, DNA strand breaks caused by Cd/Zn-MT seem more likely to be random than sequence- or base-specific. Results from experiments with radical scavengers and electron spin resonance spectroscopy point to radical species formed by Cd/Zn-MT as mediators of the DNA damage. Thus, the actual activity of Cd/Zn-MT--whether protective or damaging--appears to depend on various parameters governed by the extra- and intracellular environment.

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