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Placenta. 1997 Sep;18(7):553-62.

Uptake and processing of 59Fe-labelled and 125I-labelled rat transferrin by early organogenesis rat conceptuses in vitro.

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Division of Developmental Biology, Jefferson Medical College, Wilmington, Delaware, USA.


The delivery of iron to the early organogenesis rat embryo has been studied, using 59Fe- and 125I-labelled rat transferrin. Rat conceptuses at 9.5 days postconception were cultured for 27 or 51 h in whole rat serum. Rat transferrin labelled with 59Fe was added for the final 0.1, 0.5, 6, 24 or 48 h of culture. Radioactivity accumulated progressively in both the embryo and the visceral yolk sac. Similar results were obtained when unconjugated 59Fe3+ was added to the rat serum used as culture medium. Both acid-soluble and acid-insoluble 59Fe were substantially present in the embryo and yolk sac after all exposure periods. When conceptuses were cultured in the presence of 125I-labelled rat transferrin, acid-soluble radioactivity was progressively released into the culture medium, but accumulation into the embryo and visceral yolk sac was slight and did not change with duration of exposure to the labelled protein. Similar findings were obtained using 125I-labelled bovine serum albumin. In these experiments, there was a close correspondence between the amount of iron accumulated by the embryo and visceral yolk sac in the final 24 h of a 51-h culture and the amount of transferrin converted into acid-soluble products in the same period. Visceral yolk sacs from 17.5-day pregnant rats were explanted and cultured in the presence of 59Fe-labelled rat transferrin, 125I-labelled rat transferrin or 125I-labelled bovine serum albumin, for periods up to 3 h. Again uptake of 59Fe increased with time of incubation, and the 125I-labelled proteins were digested to acid-soluble products which were released into the culture medium. The results indicate that transferrin delivers iron for incorporation into both the embryo and the visceral yolk sac, and are consistent with a mechanism involving receptor-mediated endocytosis of iron-laden transferrin by the cells of the visceral yolk sac. The transferrin itself appears to be quantitatively degraded, following delivery of iron to the yolk sac cells, a result that differs from findings in other cell types, in which the protein is not degraded but returns to the plasma membrane to participate in further cycles of iron acquisition and delivery.

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