Date of Completion

May 2007

Honors Major

Cell Biology


Metallothionein (MT) represents a family of low molecular weight, cysteine-rich proteins that play a number of roles in cellular homeostasis. MT is synthesized as a consequence of a variety of cellular stressors, including exposure to toxic metals, increased temperature, tissue wounding, as well as inflammatory and tumorigenic agents. This protein has been found in both intracellular compartments and extracellular spaces, and its function may depend in part on its location. Extracellular MT is able to redistribute heavy metals between tissues, act as a powerful antioxidant, affect cell proliferation, and cause the suppression of T-dependent humoral immunity. The nature of the interaction of MT with the plasma cell membrane has yet to be characterized, despite many observations that there is a significant pool of extracellular MT, and that this extracellular MT will bind to leukocyte plasma membranes. In light of studies that MT can be detected on the surface of leukocytes from animals immunized in the presence of adjuvant, and that an MT specific receptor has been found on the surface of astrocytes, we have investigated the nature of the potential MT-specific surface receptor-binding site(s) on the plasma membrane of leukocytes. The identification of MT-receptors will allow for the characterization of the mechanism MT uses for immunomodulation, for the manipulation of MT in its immunomodulatory role, and for the identification of patients at higher risk for those potentially harmful immunomodulatory effects.