The induction of metallothionem was studied in the springtail Orchesella cincta (Collembola), a species of insect living in forest soils. Upon dietary exposure to Cd, two Cd-binding, cysteine-rich peptides were isolated from whole-body homogenates, using gel filtration and reversed-phase FPLC. Mass spectrometric analysis revealed that the molecular masses of these peptides were 2989 Da and 4139 Da, respectively. Amino acid sequencing of the 2989-Da peptide resulted in a sequence typical for a metallothtonein. Sequencing of the 4139-Da protein was unsuccessful, probably due to N-terminal blockage. Using different PCR techniques (3' and 5' RACE) with (degenerate) primers based on the identified amino acid sequence of the 2989 Da peptide, a metallothionein cDNA was isolated The sequence of this cDNA potentially codes for a protein of 77 amino acids The 2989 Da peptide corresponds to the C- terminal part of this protein. The 4139-Da protein is probably encoded by the N-terminal part of this protein. These results suggest that the identified peptides are products of one gene, and that the primary gene product is subject to post-translational processing The deduced amino acid sequence of the O. cincta metallothionein shows low sequence similarity with metallothioneins from Drosophila. The similarity between O. cincta MT and MTs of invertebrates is not higher than that between O. cincta and vertebrates.