Influence of site-directed modifications on the formation of iron cores in ferritin

Vanessa J. Wade, Sonia Levi, Paolo Arosio, Amyra Treffry, Pauline M. Harrison, Stephen Mann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The structure and crystal chemical properties of iron cores of reconstituted recombinant human ferritins and their site-directed variants have been studied by transmission electron microscopy and electron diffraction. The kinetics of Fe uptake have been compared spectrophotometrically. Recombinant L and H-chain ferritins, and recombinant H-chain variants incorporating modifications in the threefold (Asp131 → His or Glu134 → Ala) and fourfold (Leu169 → Arg) channels, at the partially buried ferroxidase sites (Glu62,His65 → Lys,Gly), a putative nucleation site on the inner surface (Glu61,Glu64,Glu67 → Ala), and both the ferroxidase and nucleation sites (Glu62,His65 → Lys,Gly and Glu61,Glu64,Glu67 → Ala), were investigated. An additional H-chain variant, incorporating substitution of the last ten C-terminal residues for those of the L-chain protein, was also studied. Most of the proteins assimilated iron to give discrete electron-dense cores of the Fe(III) hydrated oxide, ferrihydrite (Fe2O3.nH2O). No differences were observed for variants modified in the three- or fourfold channels compared with the unmodified H-chain ferritin. The recombinant L-chain ferritin and H-chain variant depleted of the ferroxidase site, however, showed markedly reduced uptake kinetics and comprised cores of increased diameter and regularity. Depletion of the inner surface Glu residues, whilst maintaining the ferroxidase site, resulted in a partially reduced rate of Fe uptake and iron cores of wider particle size distribution. Modification of both ferroxidase and inner surface Glu residues resulted in complete inhibition of iron uptake and deposition. No cores were observed by electron microscopy although negative staining showed that the protein shell was intact. The general requirement of an appropriate spatial charge density across the cavity surface rather than specific amino acid residues could explain how, in spite of an almost complete lack of identity between the amino acid sequences of bacterioferritin and mammalian ferritins, ferrihydrite is deposited within the cavity of both proteins under similar reconstitution conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1443-1452
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 20 1991


  • ferritin
  • iron biomineralization
  • iron storage proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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