Arsenic Induction of Metallothionein and Metallothionein Induction Against Arsenic Cytotoxicity

  • Mohammad Tariqur RahmanEmail author
  • Marc De Ley
Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series (RECT, volume 240)


Human exposure to arsenic (As) can lead to oxidative stress that can become evident in organs such as the skin, liver, kidneys and lungs. Several intracellular antioxidant defense mechanisms including glutathione (GSH) and metallothionein (MT) have been shown to minimize As cytotoxicity. The current review summarizes the involvement of MT as an intracellular defense mechanism against As cytotoxicity, mostly in blood. Zinc (Zn) and selenium (Se) supplements are also proposed as a possible remediation of As cytotoxicity. In vivo and in vitro studies on As toxicity were reviewed to summarize cytotoxic mechanisms of As. Intracellular antioxidant defense mechanisms of MT are linked in relation to As cytotoxicity. Arsenic uses a different route, compared to major metal MT inducers such as Zn, to enter/exit blood cells. A number of in vivo and in vitro studies showed that upregulated MT biosynthesis in blood components are related to toxic levels of As. Despite the cysteine residues in MT that aid to bind As, MT is not the preferred binding protein for As. Nonetheless, intracellular oxidative stress due to As toxicity can be minimized, if not eliminated, by MT. Thus MT induction by essential metals such as Zn and Se supplementation could be beneficial to fight against As toxicity.


Arsenic Antioxidant Glutathione Skin cancer Selenium Zinc 



This work was supported by a research grant from the Fonds voor Wetenschappenlijk Onderzoek-Vlaanderen (G.0410.98) and Basic Applied Research Cluster Unit, RMC, IIUM (RCG 22-05). Authors wish to acknowledge the kind assistance of Marzouq Abedur Rahman and Jan Czernuszka (Oxford University) for language editing.

Competing Financial Interest Declaration: The authors declare no conflict of financial interest.


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© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of DentistryUniversity MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  2. 2.Laboratorium voor BiochemieKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuven—HeverleeBelgium

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