A minor electrophoretically fast component was found in ferritin from iron-loaded rat liver in addition to a major electrophoretically slow ferritin similar to that observed in control rats. The electrophoretically fast ferritin showed immunological identity with the slow component, but on electrophoresis in SDS it gave a peptide of 17.3 kDa, in contrast with the electrophoretically slow ferritin, which gave a major band corresponding to the L-subunit (20.7 kDa). Thus the electrophoretically fast ferritin resembles that reported by Massover [(1985) Biochim. Biophys. Acta 829, 377-386] in livers of mice with short-term parenteral iron overload. The electrophoretically fast ferritin had a lower iron content (2000 Fe atoms/molecule) than the electrophoretically slow ferritin (3000 Fe atoms/molecule). Removal and re-incorporation of iron was possible without effect on the electrophoretic mobility of either ferritin species. On subcellular fractionation the electrophoretically fast ferritin was enriched in pellet fractions and was the sole soluble ferritin isolated from iron-laden secondary lysosomes (siderosomes). The amount and relative proportion of the electrophoretically fast species increased with iron loading. Haemosiderin isolated from siderosomes was found to contain a peptide reactive to anti-ferritin serum and corresponding to the 17.3 kDa peptide of the electrophoretically fast ferritin species. Unlike the electrophoretically slow ferritin, the electrophoretically fast ferritin did not become significantly radioactive in a 1 h biosynthetic labelling experiment. We conclude that the minor ferritin is not, as has been suggested for mouse liver ferritin, ‘a completely new species of smaller holoferritin that represents a shift in the ferritin phenotype’ in response to siderosis, but a precursor of haemosiderin, in agreement with the proposal by Richter [(1984) Lab. Invest. 50, 26-35] concerning siderosomal ferritin.

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