There is a large body of evidence demonstrating that metallothioneins (MTs) expressed in astrocytes following CNS injury, exhibit both neuroprotective and neuroregenerative properties and are critical for recovery outcomes. As these proteins lack signal peptides, and have well characterized free radical scavenging and heavy metal binding properties, the neuroprotective functions of MTs have been attributed to these intracellular roles. However, there is an increasing realization that the neuroprotective functions of MTs may also involve an extracellular component. In this issue of Journal of Neurochemistry, Ambjørn et al. reveal considerable insight into this novel function of MTs. In this review, we examine the seminal work of Ambjørn et al. in the context of our current understanding of the role of MT in astrocyte-neuron interactions in the injured brain, and also discuss the significant therapeutic potential of their work.
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