Ferritin and ferritin isoforms I : structure-function relationships synthesis degradation and secretion

01 Nov 2007

Ferritin is the intracellular protein responsible for the sequestration, storage and release of iron. Ferritin can accumulate up to 4500 iron atoms as a ferrihydrite mineral in a protein shell and releases these iron atoms when there is an increase in the cell's need for bioavailable iron. The ferritin protein shell consists of 24 protein subunits of two types, the H-subunit and the L-subunit. These ferritin subunits perform different functions in the mineralization process of iron. The ferritin protein shell can exist as various combinations of these two subunit types, giving rise to heteropolymers or isoferritins. Isoferritins are functionally distinct and characteristic populations of isoferritins are found depending on the type of cell, the proliferation status of the cell and the presence of disease. The synthesis of ferritin is regulated both transcriptionally and translationally. Translation of ferritin subunit mRNA is increased or decreased, depending on the labile iron pool and is controlled by an iron-responsive element present in the 5'-untranslated region of the ferritin subunit mRNA. The transcription of the genes for the ferritin subunits is controlled by hormones and cytokines, which can result in a change in the pool of translatable mRNA. The levels of intracellular ferritin are determined by the balance between synthesis and degradation. Degradation of ferritin in the cytosol results in complete release of iron, while degradation in secondary lysosomes results in the formation of haemosiderin and protection against iron toxicity. The majority of ferritin is found in the cytosol. However, ferritin with slightly different properties can also be found in organelles such as nuclei and mitochondria. Most of the ferritin produced intracellularly is harnessed for the regulation of iron bioavailability; however, some of the ferritin is secreted and internalized by other cells. In addition to the regulation of iron bioavailability ferritin may contribute to the control of myelopoiesis and immunological responses.