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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Nephrology 1/2017

Renal effects of metallothionein induction by zinc in vitro and in vivo

BMC Nephrology > Ausgabe 1/2017
Moritz Schanz, Lea Schaaf, Juergen Dippon, Dagmar Biegger, Peter Fritz, Mark Dominik Alscher, Martin Kimmel



Metallothionein (MTT) is an endogenous antioxidant that can be induced by both zinc (Zn) and ischemia. In kidneys, increased MTT expression exerts a putative protective role in diabetes and hypoxia. Our goal was to further investigate the behavior of MTT under the influence of Zn and hypoxia in vitro and in vivo.


MTT expression was measured in vitro in cell cultures of proximal tubular cells (LCC-PK1) by immune-histochemistry and real-time PCR after incubation with increasing concentrations of Zn under hypoxic and non-hypoxic conditions. In addition, in vivo studies were carried out in 54 patients to study MTT induction through Zn. This is a sub-study of a prospective, randomized, double-blind trial on prevention of contrast-media-induced nephropathy using Placebo, Zn and N-Acetylcysteine. Blood samples were obtained before and after 2 days p.o. treatment with or without Zn (60 mg). ELISA-based MTT level measurements were done to evaluate the effects of Zn administration. For in vivo analysis, we considered the ratio of MTT to baseline MTT (MTT1/MTT0) and the ratio of eGFR (eGFR1/eGFR0), correspondingly.


In vitro quantitative immuno-histochemical analysis (IHC) and real-time PCR showed that at increasing levels of Zn (5, 10, and 15 μg/ml) led to a progressive increase of MTTs: Median (IQR) expression of IHC also increased progressively from 0.10 (0.09–0.12), 0.15 (0.12–0.18), 0.25 (0.25–0.27), 0.59 (0.48–0.70) (p < 0.0001). Median (IQR) expression of PCR: 0.59 (0.51–1.72), 1.62 (1.38–4.70), 3.58 (3.06–10.42) and 10.81 (9.24–31.47) (p < 0.0001). In contrast, hypoxia did not change MTT-levels in vitro (p > 0.05).
In vivo no significant differences (p = 0.96) occurred in MTT-levels after 2 days of Zn administration compared with no Zn intake. Nevertheless, there was a significant correlation between MTT (MTT1/MTT0) and eGFR (eGFR1/eGFR0) in case of Zn administration (rho = −0.49; 95%-CI: −0.78 to −0.03; p = 0.04).


We found that Zn did induce MTTs in vitro, whereas hypoxia had no significant impact. In contrast, no significant increase of MTTs was detected after in vivo administration of Zn. However, there was a significant negative correlation between MTT and eGFR in vivo in case of Zn administration, this could indicate a protective role of MTTs in a setting of reduced kidney function, which is possibly influenced by Zn.

Trial registration Identifier: NCT00399256. Retrospectively registered 11/13/2006.
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