The two faces of metallothionein in carcinogenesis

Photoprotection against UVR-induced cancer and promotion of tumour survival

Heather M. McGee, Gregory M. Woods, Bill Bennett, Roger S. Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

24 Citations (Scopus)


Metallothionein is a multi-functional protein that protects the host against toxic heavy metals. Under stressful situations it can protect against oxidative damage, contribute to tissue repair, modulate immune responses and limit inflammatory processes. Recently, metallothionein's role in ultraviolet radiation (UVR)-induced injury has been investigated. These studies have shown that when metallothionein is upregulated following exposure to UVR, it can protect against UVR-induced damage and the subsequent development of skin cancer. We propose that this initial protection is achieved through its anti-oxidant role resulting in reduced oxidative stress, reduced apoptosis, reduced NFκB activation and enhanced repair of DNA damage. However, once UVR-induced neoplasia has occurred, the cancer cells can hijack metallothionein's protective functions, resulting in increased tumour progression and malignancy. These two discordant sets of attributes are context-dependent, and represent the two faces of metallothionein.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)586-596
Number of pages11
JournalPhotochemical and Photobiological Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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