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Kidney Int. 2000 May;57(5):2004-10.

Expression of lactoferrin in the kidney: implications for innate immunity and iron metabolism.

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Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Uppsala, Sweden.



Sequestering of free iron by lactoferrin (LF) is important in the defense against bacteria. In a screening for LF expression in various organs, high levels of LF mRNA were detected in human kidney. This indicated that LF is produced by the kidney and that it may participate in innate immunity of this organ.


Antibody staining and in situ hybridization of paraffin-embedded kidney sections showed that LF is expressed in cells lining the distal collecting ducts of the medulla. High levels of both protein and mRNA were detected in these cells. However, a clear difference in the distribution of mRNA and protein within the tissue was observed. LF mRNA was detected along a relatively large portion of the tubuli, whereas LF antigen was found mainly in the very distal regions of the same tubuli. This indicates that LF is released by large regions of the tubuli and possibly reabsorbed in the most distal parts. Using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, only very low LF levels were detected in urine.


The present study shows that LF is produced by the kidney and that both LF mRNA and protein are distributed in a highly ordered fashion. This latter finding, together with the very low levels of LF detected in urine, indicates that LF may contribute to the immune defense in the kidney by reduction of available free iron in the urine. Other possibilities are that LF may play a role in the iron metabolism by recovering free iron from urine and making it available for metabolic use, and that LF may participate in the antioxidant defense systems protecting the kidney against nonmicrobial oxidative injury, that is, ischemia, reperfusion and inflammation.

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