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Exp Cell Res. 1992 Oct;202(2):326-36.

Transferrin-receptor-independent but iron-dependent proliferation of variant Chinese hamster ovary cells.

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Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


The purpose of this study is to clarify the role of iron, transferrin, an iron-binding protein in vertebrate plasma, and transferrin receptors in cell proliferation. Transferrin, which is indispensable for most cells growing in tissue culture, is frequently referred to as a "growth factor". Proliferating cells express high numbers of transferrin receptors, and the binding of transferrin to their receptors that is needed for cells to initiate and maintain their DNA synthesis is sometimes regarded as analogous to other growth factor-receptor interactions. Although numerous previous experiments strongly indicate that the only function of transferrin in supporting cell proliferation is supplying cells with iron, they did not completely rule out some direct or signaling role transferrin receptors could play in cell proliferation. To address this issue, we exploited transferrin-receptor-deficient mutant Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells (McGraw, T. E., Greenfield, L., and Maxfield, F. R., 1987, J. Cell. Biol. 105, 207-214) in which various aspects of iron and transferrin metabolism in relation to their capacity to proliferate were investigated. Variant cells neither specifically bind transferrin nor do their extracts contain any detectable functional transferrin receptors, yet they proliferate and synthesize DNA with rates comparable to those observed with parent CHO cells. Desferrioxamine, an iron chelating agent, inhibits growth and DNA synthesis of both variant and control CHO cells. This inhibition can be fully alleviated, in both cell types, by ferric pyridoxal isonicotinoyl hydrazone, which can supply cells with a utilizable form of iron by a pathway not requiring transferrin and their receptors. Studies of 59Fe uptake and 125I-transferrin binding revealed that parent cells can take up iron by at least three mechanisms: from transferrin by receptor-dependent and -independent (nonspecific, nonsaturable, not requiring acidification) pathways and from inorganic iron salts (initially present in the medium as FeSO4). Although variant CHO cells are unable to acquire transferrin iron via the receptor pathway, two remaining mechanisms provide these cells with sufficient amounts of iron for DNA synthesis and cell proliferation. In conclusion, although transferrin receptors are dispensable in terms of their absolute requirement for proliferating cells, a supply of iron is still needed for their DNA synthesis. Transferrin-receptor-deficient CHO cells may be a useful model for investigating receptor-independent iron uptake from transferrin and nontransferrin iron sources.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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