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J Biol Inorg Chem. 2009 Jun;14(5):771-81. doi: 10.1007/s00775-009-0491-y. Epub 2009 Mar 17.

Human serum transferrin: a tale of two lobes. Urea gel and steady state fluorescence analysis of recombinant transferrins as a function of pH, time, and the soluble portion of the transferrin receptor.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT 05405-0068, USA.


Iron release from human serum transferrin (hTF) has been studied extensively; however, the molecular details of the mechanism(s) remain incomplete. This is in part due to the complexity of this process, which is influenced by lobe-lobe interactions, the transferrin receptor (TFR), the salt effect, the presence of a chelator, and acidification within the endosome, resulting in iron release. The present work brings together many of the concepts and assertions derived from previous studies in a methodical, uniform, and visual manner. Examination of earlier work reveals some uncertainty due to sample and technical limitations. We have used a combination of steady-state fluorescence and urea gels to evaluate the effect of conformation, pH, time, and the soluble portion of the TFR (sTFR) on iron release from each lobe of hTF. The use of authentic recombinant monoferric and locked species removes any possibility of cross-contamination by acquisition of iron. Elimination of detergent by use of the sTFR provides a further technical advantage. We find that iron release from the N-lobe is very sensitive to the conformation of the C-lobe, but is insensitive to the presence of the sTFR or to changes in pH (between 5.6 and 6.4). Specifically, when the cleft of the C-lobe is locked, the urea gels indicate that only about half of the iron is completely removed from the cleft of the N-lobe. Iron release from the C-lobe is most affected by the presence of the sTFR and changes in pH, but is unaffected by the conformation of the N-lobe. A model for iron release from diferric hTF is provided to delineate our findings.

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