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Nuclear ferritin in corneal epithelial cells: tissue–specific nuclear transport and protection from UV–damage

Elsevier Ltd
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2004.08.004
  • Cornea
  • Nuclear Transport
  • Corneal Epithelium
  • Oxidative Damage
  • Iron
  • Fenton Reaction
  • Dna
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Nuclear Localization
  • Biology


Abstract We have identified the heavy chain of ferritin as a developmentally regulated nuclear protein of embryonic chicken corneal epithelial cells. The nuclear ferritin is assembled into a supramolecular form that is indistinguishable from the cytoplasmic form of ferritin found in other cell types. Thus it most likely has iron–sequestering capabilities. Free iron, via the Fenton reaction, is known to exacerbate UV-induced and other oxidative damage to cellular components, including DNA. Since corneal epithelial cells are constantly exposed to UV light, we hypothesized that the nuclear ferritin might protect the DNA of these cells from free radical damage. To test this possibility, primary cultures of cells from corneal epithelium and other tissues were UV irradiated, and damage to DNA was detected by an in situ 3′-end labeling assay. Consistent with the hypothesis, corneal epithelial cells with nuclear ferritin had significantly less DNA breakage than the other cells types examined. However, when the expression of nuclear ferritin was inhibited the cells now became much more susceptible to UV-induced DNA damage. Since ferritin is normally cytoplasmic, corneal epithelial cells must have a mechanism that effects its nuclear localization. We have determined that this involves a nuclear transport molecule which binds to ferritin and carries it into the nucleus. This transporter, which we have termed ferritoid for its similarity to ferritin, has at least two domains. One domain is ferritin-like and is responsible for binding the ferritin; the other domain contains a nuclear localization signal that is responsible for effecting the nuclear transport. Therefore, it seems that corneal epithelial cells have evolved a novel, nuclear ferritin-based mechanism for protecting their DNA against UV damage. In addition, since ferritoid is structurally similar to ferritin, it may represent an example of a nuclear transporter that evolved from the molecule it transports (i.e., ferritin).

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