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Future Microbiol. 2012 Jan;7(1):149-64. doi: 10.2217/fmb.11.140.

Iron-saturated lactoferrin and pathogenic protozoa: could this protein be an iron source for their parasitic style of life?

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Departamento de Biología Celular, Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del IPN, Apdo. 14-740, México DF 07000, México.


Iron is an essential nutrient for the survival of pathogens inside a host. As a general strategy against microbes, mammals have evolved complex iron-withholding systems for efficiently decreasing the iron accessible to invaders. Pathogens that inhabit the respiratory, intestinal and genitourinary tracts encounter an iron-deficient environment on the mucosal surface, where ferric iron is chelated by lactoferrin, an extracellular glycoprotein of the innate immune system. However, parasitic protozoa have developed several mechanisms to obtain iron from host holo-lactoferrin. Tritrichomonas fetus, Trichomonas vaginalis, Toxoplasma gondii and Entamoeba histolytica express lactoferrin-binding proteins and use holo-lactoferrin as an iron source for growth in vitro; in some species, these binding proteins are immunogenic and, therefore, may serve as potential vaccine targets. Another mechanism to acquire lactoferrin iron has been reported in Leishmania spp. promastigotes, which use a surface reductase to recognize and reduce ferric iron to the accessible ferrous form. Cysteine proteases that cleave lactoferrin have been reported in E. histolytica. This review summarizes the available information on how parasites uptake and use the iron from lactoferrin to survive in hostile host environments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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