Ferritin, a major iron storage protein found in most living organisms, is composed of a 24-subunit protein cage with a hollow interior cavity. Serum ferritin serves as a critical marker to detect total body iron status. However, recent research reveals a number of novel functions of ferritin besides iron storage; for example, a ferritin receptor, transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1), has been identified and serum ferritin levels are found to be elevated in tumors. A particular new finding is that magnetoferritin nanoparticles, biomimetically synthesized using H-chain ferritin to form a 24-subunit cage with an iron oxide core, possess intrinsic dual functionality, the protein shell specifically targeting tumors and the iron oxide core catalyzing peroxidase substrates to produce a color reaction allowing visualization of tumor tissues. Here we attempt to summarize current research on ferritin, particularly newly identified functions related to tumors, in order to address current challenges and highlight future directions. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2013, 5:287–298. doi: 10.1002/wnan.1221
Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.
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