Cognate and noncognate metal ion coordination in metal-specific metallothioneins: The Helix pomatia system as a model

Òscar Palacios, Sílvia Pérez-Rafael, Ayelen Pagani, Reinhard Dallinger, Sílvia Atrian, Mercè Capdevila

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22 Citations (Scopus)


The Helix pomatia metallothionein (MT) system, namely, its two highly specific forms, HpCdMT and HpCuMT, has offered once again an optimum model to study metal-protein specificity. The present work investigates the most unexplored aspect of the coordination behavior of MT polypeptides with respect to either cognate or noncognate metal ions, as opposed to the standard studies of cognate metal ion coordination. To this end, we analyzed the in vivo synthesis of the corresponding complexes with their noncognate metals, and we performed a detailed spectroscopic and spectrometric study of the Zn 2+/Cd2+ and Zn2+/Cu+ in vitro replacement reactions on the initial Zn-HpMT species. An HpCuMTAla site-directed mutant, exhibiting differential Cu+-binding abilities in vivo, was also included in this study. We demonstrate that when an MT binds its cognate metal, it yields well-folded complexes of limited stoichiometry, representative of minimal-energy conformations. In contrast, the incorporation of noncognate metal ions is better attributed to an unspecific reaction of cysteinic thiolate groups with metal ions, which is dependent on their concentration in the surrounding milieu, where no minimal-energy structure is reached, and otherwise, the MT peptide acts as a multidentate ligand that will bind metal ions until its capacity has been saturated. Additionally, we suggest that previous binding of an MT polypeptide with its noncognate metal ion (e.g., binding of Zn 2+ to the HpCuMT isoform) may preclude the correct folding of the complex with its cognate metal ion. © 2014 SBIC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)923-935
JournalJournal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Cd-specific
  • Cu-specific
  • Helix pomatia
  • Metallothionein


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