The yield of the alpha-fragment of rabbit liver metallothionein 2 was used to test the domain-specificity and mobility of Cd2+ and Zn2+ when bound to metallothionein. Increasing molar ratios of Cd2+ were added to either Zn7-metallothionein or the metal-ion-free apo-metallothionein. The enzyme subtilisin was used to digest those parts of the peptide chain that were not bound to Cd2+. Analysis of the digestion products was carried out by separation by polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis. The chelation agent EDTA was used as a competitive chelator. It was found that the presence of excess EDTA greatly enhances the formation of the Cd4-metallothionein alpha-fragment, and catalyses the complete digestion of all other the metal-ion-containing peptides, so that even Cd7-metallothionein, formed when 7 molar equivalents of Cd2+ are added to Zn7-metallothionein, is digested to the alpha-fragment. These results suggest that the Cd2+ bound in the beta-sites is very labile, much more labile than the kinetics of the off-reaction would suggest. The observation of significant amounts of alpha-fragment on the gels, even when the stoichiometry of the metal ions initially present in the protein should not have resulted in much concentration of Cd4-alpha-fragment clusters, indicates that as the digestion proceeds the metal ions move to sites that form complete clusters and therefore selectively protect that part of the peptide chain from digestion. We also find that rabbit Cd4-metallothionein 2 alpha-fragment stains near to the top of the gel, in complete contrast with the location of rat Cd4-metallothionein 2 alpha-fragment. This difference in the mobilities suggests that the alpha-fragment prepared from rabbit metallothionein 2 is much less negatively charged than the analogous protein fragment prepared from rat liver metallothionein 2.

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