Iron, transferrin, and ferritin in the rat brain during development and aging

A. Jane, I. Roskams, James R. Connor

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162 Scopus citations


Iron is a universal cofactor for mitochondrial energy generation and supports the growth and differentiation of all cell types. In the CNS, iron is a key component of systems responsible for myelination and the synthesis of several neurotransmitters. In this study the spatial and temporal pattern of iron and its regulatory proteins transferrin and ferritin are quantitatively examined in the rat CNS during the first 3 weeks of postnatal life and in adults and aged animals. The midbrain, the cerebral cortex, and the cerebellum-pons are examined independently. Iron, transferrin, and ferritin concentrations are highest in all three brain regions at birth and decrease in each region to minimum levels during the third postnatal week. The decrease in levels of iron, transferrin, and ferritin is most pronounced in the cerebellum-pons and cortex and least in the midbrain. From postnatal day 17, iron (total iron content) and ferritin levels increase throughout the life-time of the rat. In contrast, transferrin levels remain fairly constant in each brain region after postnatal day 24. The midbrain region, which includes the iron-rich regions such as the globus pallidus, substantia nigra, and red nucleus, has the least change in iron with development, has the highest level of ferritin during development, and consistently has the highest level of transferrin at all ages. These observations are consistent with reports that iron is important for normal motor function. Transferrin did not increase after postnatal day 24 in the three brain regions examined despite increasing amounts of iron, which implies a decrease in iron mobility in the aged rats, a finding that is consistent with observations of human brain tissue. The data reported in this study demonstrate that iron acquisition and mobilization systems in the CNS are established early in development and that the overall pattern of acquisition among brain regions is similar. These data offer support and insight into established concepts that a sufficient iron supply is critical for normal neurological development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)709-716
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of neurochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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