Transferrin internalization via clathrin-mediated endocytosis and subsequent recycling after iron delivery has been extensively studied. Here we demonstrate a previously unrecognized parameter regulating this recycling, the binding of galectin-3 to particular glycoforms of transferrin. Two fractions of transferrin, separated by affinity chromatography based on their binding or not to galectin-3, are targeted to kinetically different endocytic pathways in HFL-1 cells expressing galectin-3 but not in SKBR3 cells lacking galectin-3; the SKBR3 cells, however, can acquire the ability to target these transferrin glycoforms differently after preloading with exogenously added galectin-3. In all, this study provides the first evidence of a functional role for transferrin glycans, in intracellular trafficking after uptake. Moreover, the galectin-3-bound glycoform increased in cancer, suggesting a pathophysiological regulation. These are novel aspects of transferrin cell biology, which has previously considered only a degree of iron loading, but not other forms of heterogeneity.
Keywords: Breast Cancer; Endocytosis; Galectin-3; Glycoforms; Glycosylation; Trafficking; Transferrin.