Zn-and Cu-thioneins: A functional classification for metallothioneins?

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This report intends to provide the reader with a deeper insight in the chemical, and extensively biological, characteristics of the metallothionein (MT) system. We have devoted nearly 20 years to the study of MTs and this has allowed us to form what we believe is a more complete picture of this peculiar family of metalloproteins. At the beginning of the 1990s, the landscape of this field was quite different from the overall picture we have now. Many researchers have contributed to the readjustment of this part of scientific knowledge. In our case, we implemented a unified method for obtaining MTs, for characterizing their metal-binding features, and for applying a unified research rationale. All this has helped to enlarge the initial picture that was mainly dominated by mammalian MT1/MT2 and yeast Cup1, by introducing approximately 20 new MTs. It has also allowed some characteristics to be clarified and examined in more detail, such as the cooperativity or the coexistence of multiple species in the metal-substitution reactions, the availability of Ag(I) or Cd(II) for use as respective probes for the Cu(I) and Zn(II) binding sites, the participation of chloride or sulfide ligands in the metal coordination spheres, and the feasibility of using in vitro data as representative of in vivo scenarios. Overall, the results yield enough data to consider new criteria for a proposal of classification of MTs based on MT metal-binding features, which complements the previous classifications, and that can shed light on the still controversial physiological functions of this peculiar superfamily of metalloproteins. © SBIC 2011.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)991-1009
JournalJournal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011


  • Biosynthesis
  • Cu-thionein
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Metal binding
  • Metallothionein
  • Protein engineering
  • Protein folding
  • Spectroscopic data
  • Structure-function relationship
  • Zn-thionein


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