Nephrops norvegicus were exposed simultaneously to cadmium, copper and zinc over an 18-day period. Exposure concentrations were control, 1, 5 and 25 mu g litre(-1) for cadmium and copper and 8, 40 and 200 mu g litre(-1) for zinc. Concentrations of cadmium, copper, zinc and metallothionein were measured in homogenates of both the gill and the hepatopancreas. Quantification of metallothionein was carried out by differential pulse polarography. Cadmium concentrations increased significantly in the gill and hepatopancreas of both male and female animals in response to increases in exposure concentration. In contrast, the concentration of copper and zinc increased significantly in the gills of males, but not in females. In the hepatopancreas, neither copper nor zinc resulted in significant changes in concentrations of these metals. Metallothionein concentrations in the gill and hepatopancreas were increased significantly in relation to metal exposure in both males and females. Concentrations of cadmium and metallothionein in both the gill and hepatopancreas of males and females were positively correlated. Copper in the hepatopancreas also showed positive relationships with MT concentrations in males, but not in females. This study suggested that cadmium MTs in the gill and hepatopancreas of Nephrops norvegicus could be used as a sensitive tool to detect cadmium contamination in the lobsters, although this was not true for copper and zinc. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd.