Incubation of human erythroleukaemia K562 cells with Al-transferrin inhibited iron uptake from 59Fe-transferrin by about 80%. The inhibition was greater than that produced by a similar quantity of Fe-transferrin. Preincubation of cells for 6 h with either Al-transferrin or Fe-transferrin diminished the number of surface transferrin receptors by about 40% compared with cells preincubated with apo-transferrin. Al-transferrin did not compete significantly with Fe-transferrin for transferrin receptors and, when cells were preincubated for 15 min instead of 6 h, the inhibitory effect of Al-transferrin on receptor expression was lost. Both forms of transferrin also decreased the level of transferrin receptor mRNA by about 50%, suggesting a common regulatory mechanism. Aluminium citrate had no effect on iron uptake or transferrin-receptor expression. AlCl3 also had no effect on transferrin-receptor expression, but at high concentration it caused an increase in iron uptake by an unknown, possibly non-specific, mechanism. Neither Al-transferrin nor AlCl3 caused a significant change in cell proliferation. It is proposed that aluminium, when bound to transferrin, inhibits iron uptake partly by down-regulating transferrin-receptor expression and partly by interfering with intracellular release of iron from transferrin.

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