The significance of transferrin for intestinal iron absorption.

Blood (1983-02-01)
H A Huebers, E Huebers, E Csiba, W Rummel, C A Finch

A mechanism is proposed by which apotransferrin is secreted from mucosal cells, loaded with iron in the intestinal lumen, and then the intact complex is taken into the cell. Within the cell, iron is released and transferred to the blood stream, whereas iron-free transferrin returns to the brush border to be recycled. We have investigated this hypothesis by measuring intestinal absorption of radioiron and 125I-labeled plasma transferrin using tied-off gut segments in normal and iron-deficient rats. There was no absorption of diferric transferrin from the ileum, but high absorption from the duodenum and jejunum segments. Jejunal absorption occurred as a function of the dose offered and showed saturation kinetics. In normal animals, 4 micrograms of the 50 micrograms of transferrin iron was absorbed over 1 hr. In iron-deficient animals, mean values as high as 13 micrograms were observed. Radioiron content of the jejunal mucosa bore a linear relationship to the dose administered and was inversely proportional to the amount of iron entering the plasma. Recycling of transferrin was indicated by the presence of labeled apotransferrin in the lumen, first observed between 15 and 60 min after the injection of diferric transferrin. A high resistance of diferric and apotransferrin to proteolytic degradation within the gut lumen was demonstrated. Comparative studies with lactoferrin and ferritin disclosed poor availability of their iron for absorption. The small amount that was absorbed did not relate to the iron status of the recipient animal. These studies support the role of mucosal transferrin as a shuttle protein for iron absorption.