Cellular distribution of ferritin subunits in postnatal rat brain

J Comp Neurol. 1998 Oct 12;400(1):73-86.


The normal development of the brain requires finely coordinated events, many of which require iron. Consequently, iron must be available to the brain in a timely manner and in a bioavailable form. However, the brain also requires stringent mechanisms to protect itself from iron-induced oxidative damage. The protein that is best suited to making iron available but also adequately protecting the cell is the intracellular iron storage protein ferritin. Typically, ferritin is composed of 24 subunits of H and L chains, which are functionally distinct. This study was undertaken to determine the expression of ferritin subunits during normal development of the postnatal rat brain. There is a shift in ferritin-containing cell types during development from predominantly microglia at postnatal day 5 (PND 5) to predominantly oligodendrocytes by PND 30. At PND 5, microglia are found throughout gray and white matter areas of the brain, but only amoeboid microglia in discrete foci in the subcortical white matter are ferritin positive. At PND 15, some oligodendrocytes in the subcortical white matter express ferritin, but the majority of ferritin-containing cells within white matter are still microglia. By PND 30, the predominant ferritin-containing cell type within white matter are oligodendrocytes. Generally, the cellular distribution of both ferritin subunits were identical with one major exception; H-ferritin, but not L-ferritin, was present in neuronal nuclei in the cortex. These data suggest that microglia play a role in brain iron homeostasis during normal postnatal development and may influence myelination by competing with oligodendrocytes for iron.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoferritins
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Ferritins / analysis*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / analysis*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Ferritins
  • Apoferritins