Cadmium is an environmental toxicant whose exposure is associated with multiple human pathologies. To prevent cadmium-induced toxicity, organisms produce a variety of detoxification molecules. In response to cadmium, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans increases the steady-state levels of several hundred genes, including two metallothioneins, mtl-1
, and the cadmium-specific response gene, cdr-1
. Despite the presumed importance in metal detoxification of mtl-1
, knockdown of their expression does not increase cadmium hypersensitivity, which suggests that these genes are not required for resistance to metal toxicity in C. elegans. To determine whether cdr-1
is critical in metal detoxification and compensates for the loss of mtl-1
, C. elegans strains were generated in which one, two, and all three genes were deleted, and the effects of cadmium on brood size, embryonic lethality, the Bag phenotype, and growth were determined. Growth at low cadmium concentrations was the only endpoint in which the triple mutant displayed more sensitivity than the single and double mutants. A lack of hypersensitivity in these strains suggests that other factors may be involved in the response to cadmium. Caenorhabditis elegans produces phytochelatins (PCs) that are critical in the defense against cadmium toxicity. PC levels in wild type, cdr-1
double, and triple mutants were measured. PC levels were constitutively higher in the mtl-1
double, and triple mutants compared with wild type. Following cadmium exposure, PC levels increased. The lack of cadmium hypersensitivity when these genes are deleted may be attributed to the compensatory effects of increases in PCs.