The surface of rat hepatocytes can transfer iron from stable chelates to external acceptors



The chelator diethylenetriaminepentaacetate (DTPA) forms a stable complex with iron that does not donate iron to transferrin under physiological conditions, i.e., pH above 7 and isotonic milieu. It does, however, deliver iron to hepatocytes. This uptake is initiated by a mobilization of the metal from the complex by the cell surface. When an external chelator is added simultaneously, it can bind the iron and inhibit its accumulation by the cells. This is shown here with the impermeant siderophore conjugate hydroxyethyl-starch coupled desferrioxamine, as well as with apo-transferrin. We also demonstrate exchange of iron between DTPA and holo-transferrin, or at least movement from the chelator to the protein, which may have lost its iron to the cell in advance, providing new binding sites for mobilized iron. The efficient hepatocyte iron donor lactoferrin greatly stimulates iron uptake from DTPA, apparently by binding iron and transferring it into the cells by endocytosis. Ferritin is unable to do this; therefore, the mobilization of iron is not caused by a reducing activity at the cell surface, because iron is readily transferred from DTPA to ferritin by the reductant ascorbic acid. The transfer process is dependent on the temperature, the time, and the amount of cells present, and is partly inhibited by sulfhydryl reagents. We conclude that this activity represents a hitherto unidentified first step in the movement of iron through the cell membrane and may be relevant for transferrin-bound, as well as for non–transferrin-bound, iron uptake by hepatocytes.