JBIC Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry

, Volume 16, Issue 7, pp 977-989

First online:

Metallothionein protein evolution: a miniassay

  • Mercè CapdevilaAffiliated withDepartament de Química, Facultat de Ciències, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
  • , Sílvia AtrianAffiliated withDepartament de Genètica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona Email author 

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Metallothionein (MT) evolution is one of the most obscure yet fascinating aspects of the study of these atypical metal-binding peptides. The different members of the extremely heterogeneous MT protein superfamily probably evolved through a web of duplication, functional differentiation, and/or convergence events leading to the current scenario, which is particularly hard to interpret in terms of molecular evolution. Difficulties in drawing straight evolutionary relationships are reflected in the lack of definite MT classification criteria. Presently, MTs are categorized either according to a pure taxonomic clustering or depending on their metal binding preferences and specificities. Extremely well documented MT revisions were recently published. But beyond classic approaches, this review of MT protein evolution will bring together new aspects that have seldom been discussed before. Hence, the emergence of life on our planet, since metal ion utilization is accepted to be at the root of the emergence of living organisms, and global trends that underlie structural and functional MT diversification, will be presented. Major efforts are currently being devoted to identifying rules for function-constrained MT evolution that may be applied to different groups of organisms.


Bacterial metallothionein Copper thionein Eukaryotic metallothionein Metallothionein Molecular evolution