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Biometals. 2007 Jun;20(3-4):513-21. Epub 2007 Jan 9.

Coordinating responses to iron and oxygen stress with DNA and mRNA promoters: the ferritin story.

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CHORI (Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute), 5700 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, CA 94609, USA.


Combinations of DNA antioxidant response element and mRNA iron responsive element regulate ferritin expression in animals in response to oxidant and iron stress, or normal developmental signals. Ferritins are protein nanocages, found in animals, plants, bacteria, and archaea, that convert iron and oxygen to ferric oxy biominerals in the protein central cavity; the mineral traps potentially toxic reactants and concentrates iron for the future synthesis of other iron/heme proteins. Regulatory signals and the nanocage gene products are the same throughout biology, but the genetic mechanisms, DNA versus DNA + mRNA, vary. The number of genes, temporal regulation, tissue distribution in multi-cellular organisms, and gene product size (maxi-ferritins have 24 subunits and mini-ferritins, or Dps proteins, have 12 subunits and are restricted to bacteria and archaea) suggest an overwhelming diversity and variability. However, common themes of regulation and function are described which indicate not only that the three-dimensional protein structure and the functions of the ferritins are conserved, but also that broad features of genetic regulation are conserved relative to organismal and/or community needs. The analysis illustrates the centrality of the ferritins to life with iron and oxygen and models how Nature harnesses potentially dangerous chemistry for biology.

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