Lactoferrin: A Natural Glycoprotein Involved in Iron and Inflammatory Homeostasis

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Sep 15;18(9):1985. doi: 10.3390/ijms18091985.


Human lactoferrin (hLf), an iron-binding multifunctional cationic glycoprotein secreted by exocrine glands and by neutrophils, is a key element of host defenses. HLf and bovine Lf (bLf), possessing high sequence homology and identical functions, inhibit bacterial growth and biofilm dependently from iron binding ability while, independently, bacterial adhesion to and the entry into cells. In infected/inflamed host cells, bLf exerts an anti-inflammatory activity against interleukin-6 (IL-6), thus up-regulating ferroportin (Fpn) and transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1) and down-regulating ferritin (Ftn), pivotal actors of iron and inflammatory homeostasis (IIH). Consequently, bLf inhibits intracellular iron overload, an unsafe condition enhancing in vivo susceptibility to infections, as well as anemia of inflammation (AI), re-establishing IIH. In pregnant women, affected by AI, bLf oral administration decreases IL-6 and increases hematological parameters. This surprising effect is unrelated to iron supplementation by bLf (80 μg instead of 1-2 mg/day), but to its role on IIH. AI is unrelated to the lack of iron, but to iron delocalization: cellular/tissue overload and blood deficiency. BLf cures AI by restoring iron from cells to blood through Fpn up-expression. Indeed, anti-inflammatory activity of oral and intravaginal bLf prevents preterm delivery. Promising bLf treatments can prevent/cure transitory inflammation/anemia/oral pathologies in athletes.

Keywords: anemia; athletes; cytokines; homeostasis; inflammation; iron; lactoferrin; oral care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / etiology
  • Anemia / metabolism
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / etiology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry
  • Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Glycoproteins / pharmacology
  • Homeostasis*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Lactoferrin / chemistry
  • Lactoferrin / genetics
  • Lactoferrin / metabolism*
  • Lactoferrin / pharmacology
  • Oral Health
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / metabolism
  • Premature Birth / prevention & control
  • Protein Binding
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Glycoproteins
  • Iron
  • Lactoferrin