Iron concentration and ferritin distribution have been determined in different organs of pea (Pisum sativum) during development under conditions of continuous iron supply from hydroponic cultures. No ferritin was detected in total protein extracts from roots or leaves. However, a transient iron accumulation in the roots, which corresponds to an increase in iron uptake, was observed when young fruits started to develop. Ferritin was detectable in total protein extracts of flowers and pods, and it accumulated in seeds. In seeds, the same relative amount of ferritin was detected in cotyledons and in the embryo axis. In cotyledons, ferritin and iron concentration decrease progressively during the first week of germination. Ferritin in the embryo axis was processed, and disappeared, during germination, within the first 4 days of radicle and epicotyl growth. This degradation of ferritin in vivo was marked by a shortening of a 28 kDa subunit, giving 26.5 and 25 kDa polypeptides, reminiscent of the radical damage occurring in pea seed ferritin during iron exchange in vitro [Laulhere, Laboure & Briat (1989) J. Biol. Chem. 264, 3629-3635]. Developmental control of iron concentration and ferritin distribution in different organs of pea is discussed.

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