Many, but not all, zinc-containing neurons in the brain are a subclass of the glutamatergic neurons, and they are found predominantly in the telencephalon. These neurons store zinc in their presynaptic terminals and release it by a calcium-dependent mechanism. These "vesicular" pools of zinc are viewed as endogenous modulators of ligand- and voltage-gated ion channels. Metallothioneins (MTs) are low molecular weight zinc-binding proteins consisting of 25-30% cysteine, with no aromatic amino acids or disulfide bonds. The areas of the brain containing high contents of zinc such as the retina, the pineal gland, and the hippocampus synthesize unique isoforms of MT on a continuous basis. The four MT isoforms are thought to provide the neurons and glial elements with mechanisms to distribute, donate, and sequester zinc at presynaptic terminals; or buffer the excess zinc at synaptic junctions. In this cause, glutathione disulfide may participate in releasing zinc from MT. A similar nucleotide and amino acid sequence has made it difficult to obtain cDNA probes and antibodies capable of distinguishing indisputably among MT isoforms. MT-I and MT-II isoforms are found in the brain and in the peripheral tissues; MT-III isoform, possessing an additional seven amino acids, is expressed mostly in the brain and to a very minute extent in the intestine and pancreas; whereas MT-IV isoform is found in tissues containing stratified squamous epithelial cells. Since MTs are expressed in neurons that sequester zinc in their synaptic vesicles, the regulation of the expression of MT isoforms is extremely important in terms of maintaining the steadystate level of zinc and controlling redox potentials. The concentration of zinc has been shown to be altered in an extensive number of disorders of the central nervous system, including alcoholism, Alzheimer-type dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Down's syndrome, epilepsy, Friedreich's ataxia, Guillaine-Barré syndrome, hepatic encephalopathy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Pick's disease, retinitis pigmentosa, retinal dystrophy, schizophrenia, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The status of MT isoforms and other low molecular weight zinc-binding proteins in these conditions, diseases, disorders, or syndromes is being delineated at this time. Since several of these disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, are associated with oxidative stress, and since MT is able to prevent the formation of free radicals, it is believed that cytokine-induced induction of MT provides a long-lasting protection to avert oxidative damage.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Molecular Biology