Cadmium-113 nuclear magnetic resonance (113Cd nmr) was used to elucidate the structural properties of the cadmium binding sites in human liver metallothionein. The isotopically labeled 113Cd-metallothionein was prepared by the in vitro exchange of the native metals (greater than 94% zinc) for 113CdCl2 during isolation. The two isoproteins, MT-1 and MT-2, showed 113Cd nmr resonances in the chemical shift range 610-670 ppm. The multiplet structure of the resonances is due to two bond scalar interactions between adjacent 113Cd ions linked by cysteine thiolate ligands. Homonuclear 113Cd decoupling experiments allowed the determination of the metal cluster structure, which, similar to the rabbit liver metallothionein, consists of a four- and a three-metal cluster designated cluster A and cluster B, respectively. Chemical shift similarities in the 113Cd nmr spectra of the human, rabbit and calf liver MT-1 and MT-2 are observed, especially for cluster A. Small variations in chemical shifts are explained in terms of differences in the primary structure between the two human isoproteins.