Using a proteomic approach, we characterized different protein expression profiles in anterior gills of the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, after cadmium (Cd) exposure. Two experimental conditions were tested: (i) an acute exposure (i.e. 500 μg Cd l-1 for 3 days) for which physiological, biochemical and ultrastructural damage have been observed previously; (ii) a chronic exposure (i.e. 50 μg Cd l-1 for 30 days) resulting in physiological acclimation, i.e. increased resistance to a subsequent acute exposure. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis (2-DE) revealed six protein spots differentially expressed after acute, and 31 after chronic Cd exposure. From these spots, 15 protein species were identified using MS/MS micro-sequencing and MS BLAST database searches. Alpha tubulin, glutathione S-transferase and crustacean calcium-binding protein 23 were down-regulated after an acute exposure, whereas another glutathione S-transferase isoform was up-regulated. Furthermore, analyses revealed the over-expression of protein disulfide isomerase, thioredoxin peroxidase, glutathione S-transferase, a proteasome subunit and cathepsin D after chronic exposure. Under the same condition, ATP synthase beta, alpha tubulin, arginine kinase, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and malate dehydrogenase were down-regulated. These results demonstrate that acute and chronic exposure to waterborne Cd induced different responses at the protein expression level. Protein identification supports the idea that Cd mainly exerts its toxicity through oxidative stress induction and sulfhydryl-group binding. As a result, analyses showed the up-regulation of several antioxidant enzymes and chaperonins during acclimation process. The gill proteolytic capacity seems also to be increased. On the other hand, the clearly decreased abundance of several enzymes involved in energy transfer suggests that chronic metal exposure induced an important metabolic reshuffling. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.