Protective role of metallothioneins in the injured mammalian brain

Adrian K. West*, Meng Inn Chuah, James C. Vickers, Roger S. Chung

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Metallothioneins (MTs) are small cysteine-rich proteins which are found widely throughout the mammalian body, including the CNS. There are extensive data on the structure and expression of MTs, and many basic properties pertinent to MT biology in the CNS appear to be well established. As discussed in this review, one isoform class (MT-I/II) is rapidly induced following many types of CNS insult, and is strongly neuroprotective, whilst another isoform class (MT-III) shows major differences in its expression profile and physiological properties. As in other tissues, there is no clear consensus on the mechanism of MT action in the CNS and how it exerts its protective role, despite a number of excellent animal and cell culture models of MT expression in the brain, and a large literature on the physico-chemical properties of MTs extending over several decades. This review is therefore an attempt to summarise the recent literature on the expression of MTs in the adult mammalian brain and how MTs possibly act to protect the brain following physical or chemical insult. One exciting finding from recent work is that perturbing the levels of MT in the brain has an effect that extends beyond cells which normally express MT to other cell types including neurons, microglia and cells of the immune system. These observations were made mainly using animal models in which MT action can be observed in its normal cellular context, and this review focuses particularly on work conducted in animal models of physical and chemical injury in the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-166
Number of pages10
JournalReviews in the Neurosciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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