Objective: Ferritin, an iron-binding protein, is ubiquitous and highly conserved; it plays a crucial role in inflammation, which is the main symptom of periodontitis. Full-length cDNA library analyses have demonstrated abundant expression of ferritin in human periodontal ligament. The aims of the present study were to explore how ferritin is regulated by local inflammation, and to investigate its functions and mechanisms of action in the process of periodontitis. Methods: Human gingival tissues were collected from periodontitis patients and healthy individuals. Experimental periodontitis was induced by ligature of second molars in mice. The expression of ferritin light polypeptide (FTL) and ferritin heavy polypeptide (FTH) were assessed by immunohistochemistry. Meanwhile, after stimulating human periodontal ligament cells (HPDLCs) with P. gingivalis-lipopolysaccharide (LPS), interleukin (IL)-6, and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), the expression of FTH and FTL were measured. Then, IL-6 and IL-8 were measured after incubation with different concentrations of apoferritin (iron-free ferritin) and several intracellular signaling pathway inhibitors, or after knockdown of the transferrin receptor. Results: Both FTH and FTL were substantially higher in inflamed periodontal tissues than in healthy tissues. The location of the elevated expression correlated well with the extent of inflammatory infiltration. Moreover, expression of FTH and FTL were enhanced after stimulation with P. gingivalis-LPS, IL-6, TNF-α. Apoferritin induced the production of IL-6 and IL-8 in a dose-dependent manner partly through binding to the transferrin receptor and activating ERK/P38 signaling pathways in HPDLCs. Conclusions: Ferritin is up-regulated by inflammation and exhibits cytokine-like activity in HPDLCs inducing a signaling cascade that promotes expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with periodontitis.

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