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Metallothionein gene family in the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus: Gene structure, differential expression and phylogenetic analysis

  • Authors: Ragusa, M.; Nicosia, A.; Costa, S.; Cuttitta, A.; Gianguzza, F.
  • Publication year: 2017
  • Type: Articolo in rivista (Articolo in rivista)
  • OA Link:


Metallothioneins (MT) are small and cysteine-rich proteins that bind metal ions such as zinc, copper, cadmium, and nickel. In order to shed some light on MT gene structure and evolution, we cloned seven Paracentrotus lividus MT genes, comparing them to Echinodermata and Chordata genes. Moreover, we performed a phylogenetic analysis of 32 MTs from different classes of echinoderms and 13 MTs from the most ancient chordates, highlighting the relationships between them. Since MTs have multiple roles in the cells, we performed RT-qPCR and in situ hybridization experiments to understand better MT functions in sea urchin embryos. Results showed that the expression of MTs is regulated throughout development in a cell type-specific manner and in response to various metals. The MT7 transcript is expressed in all tissues, especially in the stomach and in the intestine of the larva, but it is less metal-responsive. In contrast, MT8 is ectodermic and rises only at relatively high metal doses. MT5 and MT6 expression is highly stimulated by metals in the mesenchyme cells. Our results suggest that the P. lividus MT family originated after the speciation events by gene duplications, evolving developmental and environmental sub-functionalization.