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Microbial metallothioneins

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Nigel Robinson, Dr Simon Whitehall, Dr Jennifer Cavet


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Bacterial metallothioneins bind, sequester and buffer excess intracellular zinc. At present, the vast majority of the available experimental data relate to cyanobacterial metallothionein, SmtA, from Synechococcus PCC 7942. SmtA is required for normal resistance to zinc and smtA-mediated zinc resistance has been used as a selectable marker. The imidazole groups of histidine residues, in addition to the thiol groups of cysteine residues, co-ordinate zinc in bacterial metallothioneins. The structure of bacterial metallothionein must facilitate some discrimination between 'adventitious' and 'adventageous' zinc-binding sites such that under excess zinc conditions metal is predominantly scavenged from the former. It remains unclear whether or not bacterial metallothionein also acts as a zinc store that supplies zinc-requiring proteins or if under some conditions it deactivates a subset of proteins via zinc removal. Expression of smtA is induced in response to elevated concentrations of zinc via the action of SmtB. SmtB has some sequence similarity to the arsenic responsive repressor ArsR and genes encoding related proteins are present in many bacterial genomes. Metal perception by SmtB differs from ArsR. The latter contains a characteristic Cys-Val-Cys motif associated with a DNA-binding helix-turn-helix (the ArsR motif), while the former contains metal-binding motifs associated with a carboxyl-terminal α-helix that forms the interface between SmtB dimers (the SmtB motif). Some SmtB-ArsR family proteins, including the zinc sensor ZiaR from the cyanobacterium Synechocystis PCC 6803, have the metal-sensory motifs of both SmtB and ArsR. The mechanisms of action, and the features that allow discrimination between different metal ions by these sensors, are discussed.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Whitehall SK; Robinson NJ; Cavet JS

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Advances in Microbial Physiology

Year: 2001

Volume: 44

Pages: 183-213

Print publication date: 01/01/2001

ISSN (print): 0065-2911

ISSN (electronic):


DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2911(01)44014-8

PubMed id: 11407113