We have studied the effect of Cr(III)(phen)3 [(tris(1,10-phenanthroline) chromium(III) chloride)] on lymphocytes in order to find out if metallothioneins (MTs) are produced in the process. We also investigated whether zinc pretreatment is able to protect cells from apoptosis reported to occur for this compound. Our results indicate that MT synthesis is induced by Cr(III)(phen)3, and it has been identified as the MT-3 isoform through RT-PCR which has not been reported earlier. By zinc pretreatment, this apoptosis is reversed as inferred from cytotoxicity studies, Annexin-V/PI staining, ethidium bromide/acridine orange staining and DNA fragmentation pattern and ultrastructural investigations using TEM and SEM. The zinc pretreatment reduces the amount of ROS produced by Cr(III)(phen)3. The MT-1a and 1b synthesized by zinc (also evidenced through RT-PCR experiments) is possibly able to scavenge ROS which is one of the early signaling molecules that lead to apoptosis. Zinc pretreatment also reverses the changes in downstream signaling events such as mitochondrial membrane potential, ATP levels and the activation of caspase-3. This is the first report on the induction of MT-3 in lymphocytes due to a metal stress or any other stimuli. Even though MT-3 is synthesized here, apoptosis still occurs due to ROS production on Cr(III)(phen)3 exposure when the cells have not been primed with zinc.