Lead (Pb) produces aggresome-like inclusion bodies (IBs) in target cells as a toxic response. Our prior work shows metallothionein (MT) is required for this process. We used MT-I/II double knockout (MT-null) and parental wild-type (WT) cell lines to further explore the formation process of Pb-induced IBs. Unlike WT cells, MT-null cells did not form IBs after Pb exposure. Western blot of cytosol showed soluble MT protein in WT cells was lost during Pb exposure as IBs formed. Transfection of MT-I into MT-null cells allowed IBs formation after Pb exposure. Considering Pb-induced IBs may be like disease-related aggresomes, which often contain alpha-synuclein (Scna), we investigated Scna expression in cells capable (WT) and incapable (MT-null) of producing IBs after Pb exposure. Scna protein showed poor basal expression in MT-null cells. Pb exposure increased Scna expression only in WT cells. MT transfection increased Scna transcript to WT levels. In WT or MT-transfected MT-null cells, Pb-induced Scna expression rapidly increased and then decreased over 48 h as Pb-induced IBs were formed. A direct interaction between Scna and MT was confirmed ex vivo by antibody pulldown assay where the proteins coprecipitated with an antibody to MT. Pb exposure caused increased colocalization of MT and Scna proteins with time only in WT cells. In WT mice after chronic Pb exposure Scna was localized in renal cells containing forming IBs, whereas MT-null mice did not form IBs. Thus, Scna could be component of Pb-induced IBs and, with MT, may play a role in IBs formation.
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