The polypeptide chain that assembles into the unusual dodecameric shell of Listeria innocua apoferritin lacks the ferroxidase centre characteristic of H-type mammalian chains, but is able to catalyse both Fe(II) oxidation and nucleation of the iron core. A cluster of five carboxylate residues, which correspond in part to the site of iron core nucleation typical of L-type mammalian ferritins, has been proposed to be involved in both functions. The features of the iron uptake kinetics and of Fe(II) autoxidation in the presence of citrate followed spectrophotometrically confirm this assignment. In Listeria the kinetics of iron uptake is hyperbolic at low Fe(II)-to-dodecamer ratios and becomes sigmoidal when iron exceeds 150 Fe(II) atoms per dodecamer, namely when a fast crystal growth phase follows a slow initial nucleation step. Iron autoxidation in the presence of citrate displays a similar behaviour. Thus the time course is sigmoidal at low citrate-to-Fe ratios at which Fe(III) polymerization is predominant, but is hyperbolic at ligand concentrations high enough to prevent polymerization. The marked inhibitory effect of Tb(III) on the kinetics of iron incorporation confirms that carboxylates provide the iron ligands in L. innocua apoferritin. Iron uptake followed in steady-state fluorescence experiments allows one to distinguish Fe(II) binding and oxidation from the subsequent movement of Fe(III) into the apoferritin cavity as in mammalian ferritins despite the different localization of the tryptophan residues.

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