We have developed a polyacrylamide gradient gel electrophoretic method to quantitate apo-, mono-, and diferric transferrin based upon differences in their molecular size. Purified transferrin saturated to different extents (3% to 98%) with iron showed proportions of the three forms as predicted from an approximately random distribution of iron between the two metal-binding sites. The iron distributions in sera of 14 normal individuals similarly correlated with the predicted values. In contrast, 22 of 43 patients with diseases associated with abnormalities in iron or transferrin metabolism had a disproportionate increase in monoferric transferrin. This abnormality occurred in seven of nine patients who had received bone marrow transplants, seven of 14 with chronic liver disease, and eight of nine menstruating women with probable iron deficiency anemia. Interestingly, 11 patients with malabsorption or chronic renal disease had normal iron distributions. The finding of abnormal distributions of iron on transferrin suggests that gradient gel analysis may be a useful tool for studying the physiologic mechanisms controlling iron utilization.

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