Ferritins are a class of iron storage and mineralization proteins found throughout the animal, plant, and microbial kingdoms. Iron is stored within the protein shell of ferritin as a hydrous ferric oxide nanoparticle with a structure similar to that of the mineral "ferrihydrite." The eight hydrophilic channels that traverse the protein shell are thought to be the primary avenues by which iron gains entry to the interior of eukaryotic ferritins. Twenty-four subunits constitute the protein shell and, in mammalian ferritins, are of two types, H and L, which have complementary functions in iron uptake. The H chain contains a dinuclear ferroxidase site that is located within the four-helix bundle of the subunit; it catalyzes the oxidation of ferrous iron by O(2), producing H(2)O(2). The L subunit lacks this site but contains additional glutamate residues on the interior surface of the protein shell which produce a microenvironment that facilitates mineralization and the turnover of iron(III) at the H subunit ferroxidase site. Recent spectroscopic studies have shown that a di-Fe(III) peroxo intermediate is produced at the ferroxidase site followed by formation of a mu-oxobridged dimer, which then fragments and migrates to the nucleation sites to form incipient mineral core species. Once sufficient core has developed, iron oxidation and mineralization occur primarily on the surface of the growing crystallite, thus minimizing the production of potentially harmful H(2)O(2).
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.