Transferrin, the transferrin receptor, and ferritin are integral to the body's management of iron, an element required for life but highly toxic when present in excess. The transferrin receptor and ferritin are regulated posttranscriptionally by iron: the transferrin receptor by mRNA stability and ferritin by mRNA translation. Results described here indicate that transferrin, like ferritin, is regulated by iron at the level of translation. Chimeric genes introduced into the mouse genome were composed of the human transferrin 5′ regulatory region fused to the chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT) reporter gene. Iron administration to transgenic mice resulted in a significant decrease of transferrin-directed CAT enzyme activity and CAT protein in liver, but no significant decrease in human transferrin-CAT mRNA levels. Binding of specific RNA iron regulatory elements by proteins in cytoplasmic extracts have been shown to regulate ferritin and transferrin receptor synthesis. Similar results have been obtained with transferrin mRNA. A decreased binding of human transferrin 5′-untranslated region RNA by factors in cytoplasmic extracts of livers from mice receiving iron was found when compared to extracts from control mice. A human transferrin RNA-protein complex migrated electrophoretically with the same mobility as a ferritin iron responsive element RNA-iron responsive element binding protein complex. The ferritin iron responsive element RNA also competed with the human transferrin 5′-untranslated region RNA-protein complexes formed and vice versa. Therefore, iron modulation of human transferrin may share a factor common or similar to that observed in ferritin and transferrin receptor iron modulation.
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