Phenolic antioxidants, such as tBHQ [2,5-di-(t-butyl)-1,4-hydroquinone], induce Mt1 (metallothionein 1) gene expression and accumulation of MT protein. Induction of Mt1 mRNA does not depend on protein synthesis, and correlates with oxidation-reduction functions of the antioxidants. In the present study, we analysed the biochemical pathway of the induction. Induction depends on the presence of MTF-1 (metal-activated transcription factor 1), a transcription factor that is required for metal-induced transcription of Mt1, but does not require nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, a tBHQ-activated CNC bZip (cap 'n' collar basic leucine zipper) protein, that is responsible for regulating genes encoding phase II drug-metabolizing enzymes. Moreover, tBHQ induces the expression of MRE-betaGeo, a reporter gene driven by five metal response elements that constitute an optimal MTF-1 binding site. Reconstitution of Mtf1 -null cells with MTF-1 restores induction by both zinc and tBHQ. Unlike activation of phase II genes by tBHQ, induction of Mt1 expression does not occur in the presence of EDTA, when cells are cultured in zinc-depleted medium, or in cells with reduced intracellular 'free' zinc due to overexpression of ZnT1, a zinc-efflux transporter, indicating that induction requires zinc. In addition, fluorescence imaging reveals that tBHQ increases cytoplasmic free zinc concentration by mobilizing intracellular zinc pools. These findings establish that phenolic antioxidants activate Mt1 transcription by a zinc-dependent mechanism, which involves MTF-1 binding to metal regulator elements in the Mt1 gene promoter.
Receptor Biology Laboratory, Toxicology and Molecular Biology Branch, Health Effects Laboratory Division, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA.