Pulmonary ferritin: differential effects of hyperoxic lung injury on subunit mRNA levels

Free Radic Biol Med. 1997;22(5):901-8. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(96)00483-2.


Ferritin is an iron storage protein that is regulated at the transcriptional and transcriptional levels, resulting in a complex mixture of tissue- and condition-specific isoforms. The protein shell of ferritin is composed of 24 subunits of two types (heavy or light), which are encoded by two distinct and independently regulated genes. In the present studies, the isoform profile for lung ferritin differed from other tissues (liver, spleen, and heart) as determined by isoelectric focusing (IEF) and polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE). Lung ferritin was composed of equal amounts of heavy and light subunits. Differences in isoform profiles were the result of tissue-specific differential expression of the ferritin subunit genes as demonstrated by Northern blot analyses. Like heart ferritin, lung ferritin exhibited a low iron content that did not increase extensively in response to iron challenge, which contrasts with ferritins isolated from liver or spleen. When animals were exposed to hyperoxic conditions (95% oxygen for up to 60 h), ferritin heavy subunit mRNA levels did not markedly change at any of the investigated time points. In contrast, ferritin light subunit mRNA increased severalfold in response to hyperoxic exposure. Investigation of the cytoplasmic distribution of ferritin mRNA showed that a substantial portion was associated with the ribonucleoprotein (RNP) fraction of the cytosol, suggesting that a pool of untranslated ferritin mRNA exists in the lung. Upon hyperoxic insult, all ferritin light subunit mRNA pools (RNP, monosomal, polysomal) were elevated, although a specific shift from RNP to polysomal pools was not evident. Therefore, the increase in translatable ferritin mRNA in response to hyperoxia resulted from transcriptional rather than specific translational activation. The observed pattern of light chain-specific transcriptional induction of ferritin is consistent with the hypothesis that hyperoxic lung injury is at least partially iron mediated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ferritins / chemistry
  • Ferritins / genetics*
  • Ferritins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression
  • Hyperoxia / genetics*
  • Hyperoxia / metabolism*
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Lung Injury*
  • Male
  • Protein Conformation
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Ferritins
  • Iron