The transferrin iron transport system, along with its procurement sites and delivery receptors, provides a highly effective means of satisfying internal iron requirements. Iron uptake by individual tissues is determined by their receptor number, by the relative amounts of monoferric and diferric transferrin in circulation, and by the amount of available iron in donor tissues. Although the modus operandi of this system under basal conditions has been characterized, its exquisite regulation remains an enigma. In some manner, the procurement of iron is determined by iron requirements. What seems to be an inappropriate behavior of the absorptive mechanism in thalassemia and certain other erythroid overload states may actually be life-saving in the absence of transfusion, since it results in higher levels of plasma iron and thereby higher levels of erythropoiesis. The definition of the regulatory mechanism in such conditions may well lead to an understanding of the molecular defect in idiopathic hemochromatosis.

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