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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Mar 31;95(7):3489-94.

Control of zinc transfer between thionein, metallothionein, and zinc proteins.

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Center for Biochemical and Biophysical Sciences and Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Seeley G. Mudd Building, 250 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Metallothionein (MT), despite its high metal binding constant (KZn = 3.2 x 10(13) M-1 at pH 7.4), can transfer zinc to the apoforms of zinc enzymes that have inherently lower stability constants. To gain insight into this paradox, we have studied zinc transfer between zinc enzymes and MT. Zinc can be transferred in both directions-i.e., from the enzymes to thionein (the apoform of MT) and from MT to the apoenzymes. Agents that mediate or enhance zinc transfer have been identified that provide kinetic pathways in either direction. MT does not transfer all of its seven zinc atoms to an apoenzyme, but apparently contains at least one that is more prone to transfer than the others. Modification of thiol ligands in MT zinc clusters increases the total number of zinc ions released and, hence, the extent of transfer. Aside from disulfide reagents, we show that selenium compounds are potential cellular enhancers of zinc transfer from MT to apoenzymes. Zinc transfer from zinc enzymes to thionein, on the other hand, is mediated by zinc-chelating agents such as Tris buffer, citrate, or glutathione. Redox agents are asymmetrically involved in both directions of zinc transfer. For example, reduced glutathione mediates zinc transfer from enzymes to thionein, whereas glutathione disulfide oxidizes MT with enhanced release of zinc and transfer of zinc to apoenzymes. Therefore, the cellular redox state as well as the concentration of other biological chelating agents might well determine the direction of zinc transfer and ultimately affect zinc distribution.

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