According to the hypothesis of Fletcher and Huehns, functional differences exist between both iron-binding sites of transferrin. The site designated A should mainly be involved in the delivery of iron to erythroid cells, whereas site B should donate its iron preferentially to cells involved in the absorption and storage of iron. In the present study this hypothesis could be confirmed by in vitro experiments with various cell types. Iron transferrin preincubated with rat bone marrow cells donates less iron to rat bone marrow cells, Chinese hamster fibroblasts, human fibroblasts and human lymphoblasts than freshly prepared iron transferrin equal in iron and transferrin concentration. Rat liver parenchymal cells, however, take up more iron from preincubated than from freshly prepared iron transferrin. Obviously, site A not only donates iron preferentially to erythroid cells but also to (rapidly) dividing nonerythroid cells in culture. From experiments with iron transferrin mixtures in which radioiron was present at low or high iron saturation, it could be concluded that rat bone marrow cells take up iron equally well from monoferric as from diferric transferrin. The observed functional heterogeneity could, therefore, not be ascribed to differences between monoferric and diferric transferrin.

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