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J Biol Chem. 1997 May 9;272(19):12831-9.

Ferritin is a developmentally regulated nuclear protein of avian corneal epithelial cells.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Tufts University Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA.


Previously, we generated monoclonal antibodies against chicken corneal cells (Zak, N. B., and Linsenmayer, T. F. (1983) Dev. Biol. 99, 373). We have now observed that one group of these antibodies reacts with a developmentally regulated component of corneal epithelial cell nuclei. This component is the heavy chain of ferritin, as determined by analyses of immunoisolated cDNA clones and immunoblotting of the protein. Immunoblotting also suggests that the nuclear ferritin may be in a supramolecular form that is similar to the iron-binding ferritin complex found in the cytoplasm of many cells. In vitro cultures and transfection studies show that the nuclear localization depends predominantly on cell type but can be altered by the in vitro environment. The appearance of nuclear ferritin is at least partially under translational regulation, as is known to be true for the cytoplasmic form of the molecule. The tissue and developmental distributions of the mRNA for the molecule are much more extensive than the protein itself, and the removal of iron from cultures of corneal epithelial cells with the iron chelator deferoxamine prevents the appearance of nuclear ferritin. At present the functional role(s) of nuclear ferritin remain unknown, but previous studies on cytoplasmic ferritin raise the possibility that it prevents damage due to free radical generation ("oxidative stress") by sequestering iron. Although it remains to be tested whether nuclear ferritin prevents oxidative damage, we find this an attractive possibility. Since the corneal epithelium is transparent and is constantly exposed to free radical-generating UV light, it is possible that the cells of this tissue have evolved a specialized mechanism to prevent oxidative damage to their nuclear components.

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