Induction of Several Acute-Phase Protein Genes by Heavy Metals: A New Class of Metal-Responsive Genes

Minas Yiangou, Xin Ge, Kenneth C. Carter, John Papaconstantinou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Acute-phase reactants, metallothioneins, and heat-shock proteins are the products of three families of genes that respond to glucocorticoids and cytokines. Metallothioneins and heat-shock proteins, however, are also stimulated by heavy metals, whereas very little is known about the effect of heavy metals on acute-phase-reactant genes. We have studied the effect of heavy metals (Hg, Cd, Pb, Cu, Ni, and Zn) and Mg on the acute-phase reactants α1acid glycoprotein, C-reactive protein, α1antitrypsin and α1anti-chymotrypsin. α1-Acid glycoprotein and C-reactive protein mRNA levels were increased severalfold in livers of heavy-metal-treated Balb/c mice. The strongest induction was mediated by Hg, followed in order of response by Cd > Pb > Cu > Ni > Zn > Mg. None of the metals affected the mRNA levels of albumin, α1-antitrypsin, and α1antichymotrypsin. Furthermore, failure to repress albumin, a negative acute-phase reactant, indicated that the induction of these genes was not due to a metal-mediated inflammatory response. The metals also induced α1acid glycoprotein and C-reactive protein in adrenalectomized animals, indicating that induction by the heavy metals is not mediated by the glucocorticoid induction pathway. Sequence analysis has revealed a region of homology to metal-responsive elements in the α1acid glycoprotein and C-reactive protein promoters. Additionally, an α1-acid glycoprotein expression vector, pAGP(−595)CAT, responded to Hg and Cd when transfected into human HepG2 cells. Our studies indicate that the induction of α1-acid glycoprotein and C-reactive protein by heavy metals may be regulated by these metal-responsive elements at the level of transcription.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3798-3806
Number of pages9
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 1 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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