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J Nutr. 1998 Sep;128(9):1555-61.

Caco-2 cell ferritin formation predicts nonradiolabeled food iron availability in an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 cell culture model.

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U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory, USDA/ARS, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


We have adapted an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 cell model to assess Fe availability from foods, by using ferritin formation by Caco-2 cells as an indicator of Fe uptake. Ferritin formation by Caco-2 cells occurs in response to Fe uptake at concentrations of available Fe greater than that of the culture media to which the cells have been adapted. This methodology circumvents the need for using radioactive Fe and thus eliminates the costs and controversies associated with food radiolabeling. To validate this method, we measured ferritin formation in Caco-2 cells exposed to digests containing Fe of relatively high and low availability. Our objective was to determine if ferritin formation would be proportional to Fe uptake and sufficiently sensitive to be an indicator of Fe availability from food digests. Our model uses established in vitro digestion techniques coupled with uptake of Fe by Caco-2 cell monolayers. Measurement of cell ferritin was done by a commercially available RIA. Higher ferritin formation was observed in cells exposed to digests containing FeSO4 plus ascorbic acid vs, digests containing FeSO4 plus citric acid. Additional comparisons of Fe availability from digests of beef, fish, corn and green beans yielded results that demonstrate higher Fe availability (i.e., greater ferritin formation) from beef and fish digests than from digests of corn and green beans. Overall, the results document the promotional effects of ascorbic acid and animal tissue on Fe uptake as measured indirectly by ferritin formation. The results of this study indicate that ferritin formation by Caco-2 cell monolayers is highly sensitive and accurately measures food Fe availability in this in vitro system.

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