We examined metallothionein (MT)-induced neuroprotection during kainic acid (KA)-induced excitotoxicity by studying transgenic mice with MT-I overexpression (TgMT mice). KA induces epileptic seizures and hippocampal excitotoxicity, followed by inflammation and delayed brain damage. We show for the first time that even though TgMT mice were more susceptible to KA, the cerebral MT-I overexpression decreases the hippocampal inflammation and delayed neuronal degeneration and cell death as measured 3 days after KA administration. Hence, the proinflammatory responses of microglia/macrophages and lymphocytes and their expression of interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6, IL-12, tumor necrosis factor-α and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP-3, MMP-9) were significantly reduced in hippocampi of TgMT mice relative to wild-type mice. Also by 3 days after KA, the TgMT mice showed significantly less delayed damage, such as oxidative stress (formation of nitrotyrosine, malondialdehyde, and 8-oxoguanine), neurodegeneration (neuronal accumulation of abnormal proteins), and apoptotic cell death (judged by TUNEL and activated caspase-3). This reduced bystander damage in TgMT mice could be due to antiinflammatory and antioxidant actions of MT-I but also to direct MT-I effects on the neurons, in that significant extracellular MT presence was detected. Furthermore, MT-I overexpression stimulated astroglia and increased immunostaining of antiinflammatory IL-10, growth factors, and neurotrophins (basic fibroblastic growth factor, transforming growth factor-β, nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, glial-derived neurotrophic factor) in hippocampus. Accordingly, MT-I has different functions that likely contribute to the increased neuron survival and improved CNS condition of TgMT mice. The data presented here add new insight into MT-induced neuroprotection and indicate that MT-I therapy could be used against neurological disorders. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.