Unconventional endocytosis and trafficking of transferrin receptor induced by iron

Elena Gammella, Irene Schiano Lomoriello, Alexia Conte, Stefano Freddi, Alessandra Alberghini, Maura Poli, Sara Sigismund, Gaetano Cairo, Stefania Recalcati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The posttranslational regulation of transferrin receptor (TfR1) is largely unknown. We investigated whether iron availability affects TfR1 endocytic cycle and protein stability in HepG2 hepatoma cells exposed to ferric ammonium citrate (FAC). NH4Cl and bafilomycin A1, but not the proteasomal inhibitor MG132, prevented the FAC-mediated decrease in TfR1 protein levels, thus indicating lysosomal involvement. Knockdown experiments showed that TfR1 lysosomal degradation is independent of 1) endocytosis mediated by the clathrin adaptor AP2; 2) Tf, which was suggested to facilitate TfR1 internalization; 3) H-ferritin; and 4) MARCH8, previously implicated in TfR1 degradation. Notably, FAC decreased the number of TfR1 molecules at the cell surface and increased the Tf endocytic rate. Colocalization experiments confirmed that, upon FAC treatment, TfR1 was endocytosed in an AP2- and Tf-independent pathway and trafficked to the lysosome for degradation. This unconventional endocytic regulatory mechanism aimed at reducing surface TfR1 may represent an additional posttranslational control to prevent iron overload. Our results show that iron is a key regulator of the trafficking of TfR1, which has been widely used to study endocytosis, often not considering its function in iron homeostasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-108
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Biology of the Cell
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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