Studies on iron uptake into the brain have traditionally focused on transport by transferrin. However, transferrin receptors are not found in all brain regions and are especially low in white matter tracts where high iron concentrations have been reported. Several lines of research suggest that a receptor for ferritin, the intracellular storage protein for iron, may exist. We present, herein, evidence for ferritin binding sites in the brains of adult mice. Autoradiographic studies using 125I-recombinant human ferritin demonstrate that ferritin binding sites in brain are predominantly in white matter. Saturation binding analyses revealed a single class of binding sites with a dissociation constant (K(D)) of 4.65 x 10(-9) M and a binding site density (Bmax of 17.9 fmol bound/microg of protein. Binding of radiolabeled ferritin can be competitively displaced by an excess of ferritin but not transferrin. Ferritin has previously been shown to affect cellular proliferation, protect cells from oxidative damage, and deliver iron. The significance of a cellular ferritin receptor is that ferritin is capable of delivering 2,000 times more iron per mole of protein than transferrin. The distribution of ferritin binding sites in brain vis-à-vis transferrin receptor distribution suggests distinct methods for iron delivery between gray and white matter.