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J Biol Chem. 1990 Mar 25;265(9):4771-4.

Regulation of ferritin and transferrin receptor mRNAs.

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Department of Biochemistry, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695-7622.


Iron regulates the synthesis of two proteins critical for iron metabolism, ferritin and the transferrin receptor, through novel mRNA/protein interactions. The mRNA regulatory sequence (iron-responsive element (IRE)) occurs in the 5'-untranslated region of all ferritin mRNAs and is repeated as five variations in the 3'-untranslated region of transferrin receptor mRNA. When iron is in excess, ferritin synthesis and iron storage increase. At the same time, transferrin receptor synthesis and iron uptake decrease. Location of the common IRE regulatory sequence in different noncoding regions of the two mRNAs may explain how iron can have opposite metabolic effects; when the IRE is in the 5'-untranslated region of ferritin mRNA, translation is enhanced by excess iron whereas the presence of the IREs in the 3'-untranslated region of the transferrin receptor mRNA leads to iron-dependent degradation. How and where iron actually acts is not yet known. A soluble 90-kDa regulatory protein which has been recently purified to homogeneity from liver and red cells specifically blocks translation of ferritin mRNA and binds IRE sequences but does not appear to be an iron-binding protein. The protein is the first specific eukaryotic mRNA regulator identified and confirms predictions 20 years old. Concerted regulation by iron of ferritin and transferrin receptor mRNAs may also define a more general strategy for using common mRNA sequences to coordinate the synthesis of metabolically related proteins.

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