Eighteen hours of immobilization stress, accompanied by food and water deprivation, increased liver metallothionein (MT) but decreased kidney MT levels. Food and water deprivation alone had a significant effect only on liver MT levels. In contrast, stress and food and water deprivation increased both liver and kidney lipid peroxidation levels, indicating that the relationship between MT and lipid peroxidation levels (an index of free radical production) is unclear. Adrenalectomy increased both liver and kidney MT levels in basal conditions, whereas the administration of corticosterone in the drinking water completely reversed the effect of adrenalectomy, indicating an inhibitory role of glucocorticoids on MT regulation in both tissues. Changes in glutathione (GSH) metabolism produced significant effects on kidney MT levels. Thus, the administration of buthionine sulfoximine, an inhibitor of GSH synthesis, decreased kidney GSH and increased kidney MT content, suggesting that increased cysteine pools because of decreased GSH synthesis might increase kidney MT levels through an undetermined mechanism as it appears to be the case in the liver. However, attempts to increase kidney MT levels by the administration of cysteine or GSH were unsuccesful, in contrast to what is known for the liver. The present results suggest that there are similarities but also substantial differences between liver and kidney MT regulation in these experimental conditions. © 1993 Rapid Communications of Oxford Ltd.