What is transferrin iron and how does it enter cells?

Updated: Aug 04, 2019
  • Author: James L Harper, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Answer

Most iron delivered to nonintestinal cells is bound to transferrin. Transferrin iron is delivered into nonintestinal cells via 2 pathways: the classical transferrin receptor pathway (high affinity, low capacity) and the pathway independent of the transferrin receptor (low affinity, high capacity). Otherwise, the nonsaturability of transferrin binding to cells cannot be explained.

In the classical transferrin pathway, the transferrin iron complex enters the cell within an endosome. Acidification of the endosome releases the iron from transferrin so that it can enter the cell. The apotransferrin is delivered by the endosome to the plasma for reutilization. The method by which the transferrin receptor–independent pathway delivers iron to the cell is not known.


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