Metallothionein (MT) plays a central role in cellular defense against heavy metals and oxidative stress. Since the induction of MT requires the activation of metal response element (MRE)-binding transcription factor-1 (MTF-1) by binding of zinc ions, inorganic zinc is regarded as a typical MT inducer. However, in a previous report, we showed that inorganic zinc could not induce MT in vascular endothelial cells. While it is suggested that endothelial MT presents mechanisms different from those of other cell types, these remain unclear. In this study, we investigated whether the induction of endothelial MT expression involves the Nrf2–ARE pathway using copper(II) bis(diethyldithiocarbamate), termed Cu10, using a culture system of bovine aortic endothelial cells. Cu10 induced MT-1/2 protein expression and increased the expression of mRNAs for MT-1A, MT-1E, and MT-2, MT isoforms expressed in the cells. Cu10 activated not only the MTF-1–MRE, but also the Nrf2–ARE pathway. MTF-1 knockdown resulted in the repression of Cu10-induced MT-1 and -2 expression. Cu10-induced MT-1 expression was down-regulated by Nrf2 knockdown. However, MT-2 expression was not affected by Nrf2 knockdown. These results suggest that the expression of endothelial MT is up-regulated by the Nrf2–ARE pathway as well as by the MTF-1–MRE pathway. Moreover, MT-1 regulation mechanisms differ from that of MT-2. Specifically, the present data support the hypothesis that MT-1 participates in the biological defense system, while MT-2 mainly regulates intracellular zinc metabolism.
2016 The Japanese Society of Toxicology