Iron uptake mediated by the plant-derived chelator nicotianamine in the small intestine

J Biol Chem. 2021 Jan-Jun:296:100195. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.015861. Epub 2020 Dec 25.


Iron is an essential metal for all living organisms that is absorbed in the intestinal cells as a heme-chelated or free form. It is unclear how important plant-derived chelators, such as nicotianamine (NA), an organic small molecule that is ubiquitous in crops, vegetables, and various other foods, contribute to iron bioavailability in mammals. We performed electrophysiological assays with Xenopus laevis oocytes and radioactive tracer experiments with Caco-2 cells. The findings revealed that the proton-coupled amino acid transporter SLC36A1 (PAT1) transports iron in the form of NA-Fe (II) complex in vitro. Decreased expression of hPAT1 by RNA interference in Caco-2 cells reduced the uptake of NA-59Fe (II) complex. The uptake of inorganic 59Fe (II) was relatively unaffected. These results imply that PAT1 transports iron as a NA-Fe (II) complex. The rate of 59Fe absorption in the spleen, liver, and kidney was higher when mice were orally administered NA-59Fe (II) compared with free 59Fe (II). The profile of site-specific PAT1 expression in the mouse intestine coincided with those of NA and iron contents, which were the highest in the proximal jejunum. Orally administered NA-59Fe (II) complex in mice was detected in the proximal jejunum by thin layer chromatography. In contrast, much less 59Fe (or NA) was detected in the duodenum, where the divalent metal transporter SLC11A2 (DMT1) absorbs free Fe (II). The collective results revealed the role of PAT1 in NA-Fe (II) absorption in the intestine and potential implication of NA in iron uptake in mammals.

Keywords: Caco-2 cells; Xenopus; intestine; iron; nicotianamine; oocyte; plant-derived chelator; transport metal; transporter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Azetidinecarboxylic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Azetidinecarboxylic Acid / pharmacology
  • Biological Availability
  • Biological Transport / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chelating Agents / pharmacology*
  • Duodenum / drug effects
  • Duodenum / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects
  • Intestine, Small / drug effects*
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Jejunum / drug effects
  • Jejunum / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Chelating Agents
  • Phytochemicals
  • nicotianamine
  • Azetidinecarboxylic Acid
  • Iron