Redefining the role of metallothionein within the injured brain: Extracellular metallothioneins play an important role in the astrocyte-neuron response to injury

Chung RS, Penkowa M, Dittmann J, King CE, Bartlett C, Asmussen JW, Hidalgo J, Carrasco J, Leung YK, Walker AK, Fung SJ, Dunlop SA, Fitzgerald M, Beazley LD, Chuah MI, Vickers JC, West AK
Source: J Biol Chem
Publication Date: (2008)
Issue: 283(22): 15349-58
Research Area:
Cells used in publication:
Astrocyte, rat
Species: rat
Tissue Origin: brain
Neuron, hippo/cortical, rat
Species: rat
Tissue Origin: brain
Nucleofector® I/II/2b
Proteins which are protective after brain injury are classically thought to exert their effect within the expressing cell. The astrocytic metallothioneins (MT) are one example and are thought to act via intracellular free radical scavenging and heavy metal regulation, in particular zinc. Indeed, we have previously established that astrocytic MTs are required for successful brain healing. Here we provide evidence for a fundamentally different mode of action relying upon intercellular transfer from astrocytes to neurons which in turn leads to uptake-dependent axonal regeneration. First, we show that MT can be detected within the extracellular fluid of the injured brain, and that cultured astrocytes are capable of actively secreting MT in a regulatable manner. Second, we identify a receptor, megalin, which mediates MT transport into neurons and show that MT-stimulated axonal regeneration is dependent on its receptor-mediated uptake. Third, we directly demonstrate for the first time the transfer of MT from astrocytes to neurons over a specific time-course in vitro. Finally, we show that MT is rapidly internalised via the cell bodies of retinal ganglion cells in vivo and is a powerful promoter of axonal regeneration through the inhibitory environment of the completely severed mature optic nerve. Our work suggests that the protective functions of MT in the CNS should be widened from a purely astrocytic focus to include extracellular and intra-neuronal roles. This unsuspected action of MT represents a novel paradigm of astrocyte-neuronal interaction after injury and may have implications for the development of MT-based therapeutic agents.