Acidic isoferritins have been previously found to be highly potent inhibitors of hematopoietic progenitors at concentrations of 10(-16) to 10(-18) mol/L, and it has been suggested that acidic isoferritin inhibitory activity plays a role in the regulation of normal hematopoiesis and also in the pathogenesis of leukemia. To characterize the ferritin species that affect the in vitro growth of human colony-forming unit-granulocyte-macrophage (CFU-GM), we tested different preparations of basic (L-subunit-rich) and acidic (H-subunit-rich) isoferritins. Three preparations of human liver (basic) ferritin did not show any effects on CFU-GM growth at concentrations up to 10(-9) mol/L, irrespective of the degree of glycosylation. Acidic isoferritins were purified both from HeLa cells and human heart. HeLa cell ferritin did not affect in vitro colony formation. One of two preparations of human heart ferritin, containing 5% glycosylated ferritin, showed a mean inhibition of 26% +/- 8% of the control at 10(-9) mol/L (P less than .02), whereas the other preparation, which contained no glycosylated ferritin, did not show any effect of CFU-GM growth. A preparation enriched for glycosylated acidic isoferritins from human heart was found to produce a mean inhibition of 32% +/- 11% of the control at 10(-9) mol/L (P less than .01), whereas another one was ineffective. A significant part of the inhibitory activity was removed by preincubation with the monoclonal antibody 2A4 directed against human heart ferritin. The present findings indicate that basic isoferritins, ie, the predominant ferritin type in human blood, have no effect on the growth of human CFU-GM, and this is in keeping with indirect clinical evidence. Inhibition of colony formation may be obtained by some preparations of acidic isoferritins that are rich in H subunits and bind to concanavalin A. The mechanism(s) responsible for this are not clear, but the effective concentrations are higher than those found in human blood both under normal conditions and in leukemia. At present, the physiologic significance of the observed inhibitory activity is uncertain.
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