Purification, characterization, and cDNA cloning of a novel metallothionein-like, cadmium-binding protein from Caenorhabditis elegans

L. W. Slice, J. H. Freedman, C. S. Rubin

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57 Scopus citations


Caenorhabditis elegans adapted for survival in high concentration of Cd(II) express a heavy metal binding protein designated C. elegans metallothionein-like protein or MT-Ce. This protein was purified to homogeneity and characterized. MT-Ce binds 6 mol of Cd(II)/mol protein. The sequence of 39 amino-terminal residues in MT-Ce was determined. A radiolabeled 41-mer oligonucleotide, designed from the partial MT-Ce sequence, was used in conjunction with sucrose gradient centrifugation to obtain size-fractionated poly(A+) RNA enriched in MT-Ce sequences. Subsequently, cloned cDNAs, corresponding to MT-Ce mRNA sequences, were isolated from a λZapII cDNA library prepared from the enriched template mRNA. cDNA and protein sequence analysis revealed that MT-Ce comprises 62 amino acid residues and has a predicted M(r) of 6462. Seventeen of the 18 Cys residues in the nematode cadmium-binding protein are included in Cys-X-Cys and X-Cys-Cys-X motifs that are characteristic of mammalian metallothioneins (MTs). However, the resemblance of MT-Ce to mammalian MTs is superficial. The amino acid sequence MT-Ce is unique, and neither its putative α and β domains nor its Cys residues can be readily aligned with the corresponding regions of other eukaryotic MTs. This suggests that MT-Ce is an example of convergent evolution. The MT-Ce mRNA level in nematodes that were selected and grown with Cd(II) concentrations that are lethal for wild-type worms, was 55-fold higher than the level of MT-Ce mRNA in wild-type C. elegans. Comparison of the sequence of MT-Ce cDNAs revealed the occurrence of two types of MT-Ce mRNA. Each contains an identical coding region, but the cDNAs diverge markedly in their 5'-untranslated regions. This suggests the possibilities of regulation by alternative splicing and/or the presence of multiple MT-Ce genes encoding a single protein, but controlled by different regulatory elements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)256-263
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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