Most people generally ingest cadmium in their food. Cadmium that has accumulated in tissues induces the synthesis of metallothioneins (MTs) which are metal-binding proteins that bind tightly to cadmium to inhibit its renal toxicity. Individuals whose ability to induce the synthesis of MTs is low seem likely to be particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of cadmium. In this study, we analyzed the polymorphism of the promoter region of the gene for MT-IIA, the major species of MT in humans, in 119 adult Japanese subjects. We found that about 18% of the subjects had an A → G single-nucleotide polymorphism in the core region of the promoter near the TATA box. A reporter-gene assay using HEK293 cells showed that replacement of A by G at position -5 reduced the efficiency of the cadmium-induced transcription of the gene for MT-IIA. This single-nucleotide polymorphism inhibited the binding of nuclear proteins to the core promoter region of the gene for MT-IIA. When the promoter region upstream of the TATA box was replaced by a sequence that contained three dioxin-responsive elements, the reporter-gene assay demonstrated that the A → G single-nucleotide polymorphism resulted in a marked reduction in the rate of dioxin-induced transcription. These results suggest that the A → G single-nucleotide polymorphism reduces the efficiency of those aspects of the transcription of the gene for MT-IIA that are controlled by general transcription factors.
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