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Toxicol Lett. 1994 Oct;74(1):23-33.

Species variation in hepatic metallothionein.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City 66160-7417.


Metallothionein (MT) is a low-molecular-weight protein involved in the homeostasis of endogenous metals and in the detoxication of heavy metals. In humans, the levels of hepatic MT have been shown to be up to 100 times the levels found in rat and mouse liver. In order to further investigate this species difference in hepatic MT levels, hepatic MT was quantified in 15 species (human, monkey, dog, cat, cow, pig, sheep, goat, rabbit, chicken, hamster, rat, mice, guinea pig, and frog). Fresh liver was obtained from each species and MT was quantified by 2 different metal-saturation assays. Results from the Cd-heme and Ag-heme assays showed that human, dog, cat, pig, and goat had the highest hepatic MT levels (400-700 micrograms/g liver). Monkey, cow, and sheep had moderate hepatic MT levels (about 200 micrograms/g liver), while rodents (mouse, rat, hamster, guinea pig, and rabbit) had low hepatic MT levels (2-10 micrograms/g liver). Hepatic MT levels in non-mammals (chick and frog) were slightly higher than rodents (about 20 micrograms/g liver). Sephadex G-75 column elution volumes ranged from 1.7 to 1.8, which implies that MT from all species had approximately the same molecular weight and similar structure. Copper and zinc concentration in the cytosols were measured by atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Dog and cat had the highest levels of Cu (86 and 50 micrograms/g liver, respectively), and pig and hamster were lowest (about 10 micrograms/g liver). Human, dog, cat, and goat had the highest levels of zinc (approximately 40-50 micrograms/g liver) while hamster and guinea pig were lowest (approximately 15 micrograms/g liver). The results show that there is a marked species difference in hepatic MT concentrations with dog, cat, and human having the highest levels.

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