The barley genome encodes a family of 10 metallothioneins (MTs) that have not previously been subject to extensive gene expression profiling. We show here that expression of MT1a, MT2b1, MT2b2 and MT3 in barley leaves increased more than 50-fold during the first 10 d after germination. Concurrently, the root-specific gene MT1b1 was 1000-fold up-regulated. Immunolocalizations provided the first evidence for accumulation of MT1a and MT2a proteins in planta, with correlation to transcript levels. In developing grains, MT2a and MT4 expression increased 4- and 300-fold over a 28-day-period after pollination. However, among the MT grain transcripts MT2c was the most abundant, whereas MT4 was the least abundant. Excess Cu up-regulated three out of the six MTs expressed in leaves of young barley plants. In contrast, most MTs were down-regulated by excess Zn or Cd. Zn starvation led to up-regulation of MT1a, whereas Cu starvation up-regulated MT2a, which has two copper-responsive elements in the promoter. Arabidopsis lines constitutively overexpressing barley MT2a showed increased sensitivity to excess Cd and Zn but no Cu-induced response. We suggest that barley MTs are differentially involved in intracellular homeostasis of essential metal ions and that a subset of barley MTs is specifically involved in Cu detoxification.
Plant, Cell and Environment, 2014, Vol 37, Issue 2, p. 353-367