Ferritin has been purified from normal full-term human placentae and its antigenic and molecular characteristics compared with adult liver ferritin. Placental ferritin is composed predominantly of a single subunit type, co-migrating with a liver ferritin standard on sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis. Comparison of dose-response curves in an immunoradiometric assay indicated some tissue-specific antigenicity for placental ferritin. This was supported by immunofluorescence studies on cryostat sections of human placentae by using antibodies to placental and spleen ferritin. Specific staining for placental ferritin was demonstrated within placental syncytiotrophoblast, particularly localized towards the microvillus plasma membrane. Ferritin has also been shown by electrophoretic and antigenic analysis to be present in protein fractions solubilized from isolated human syncytiotrophoblast microvillus plasma-membrane preparations, suggesting that ferritin may play an active role in the transfer of iron from maternal transferrin across the syncytiotrophoblast plasma membrane.

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