Ferritins: furnishing proteins with iron

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Ferritins are a superfamily of iron oxidation, storage and mineralization proteins found throughout the animal, plant, and microbial kingdoms. The majority of ferritins consist of 24 subunits that individually fold into 4-α-helix bundles and assemble in a highly symmetric manner to form an approximately spherical protein coat around a central cavity into which an iron-containing mineral can be formed. Channels through the coat at inter-subunit contact points facilitate passage of iron ions to and from the central cavity, and intrasubunit catalytic sites, called ferroxidase centers, drive Fe2+ oxidation and O2 reduction. Though the different members of the superfamily share a common structure, there is often little amino acid sequence identity between them. Even where there is a high degree of sequence identity between two ferritins there can be major differences in how the proteins handle iron. In this review we describe some of the important structural features of ferritins and their mineralized iron cores and examine in detail how three selected ferritins oxidise Fe2+ in order to explore the mechanistic variations that exist amongst ferritins. We suggest that the mechanistic differences reflect differing evolutionary pressures on amino acid sequences, and that these differing pressures are a consequence of different primary functions for different ferritins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-28
Number of pages16
JournalJBIC Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • bacterioferritin
  • ferritin
  • ferroxidase
  • iron oxidation
  • iron storage
  • mineralization

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