In 33 patients with thalassemia and idiopathic hemochromatosis, plasma ferritin protein levels ranged from 36 to 5,850 micrograms/L. The iron content of this ferritin as determined by immunoprecipitation ranged from undetectable amounts to 507 micrograms/L. The mean iron content of ferritin protein in those and other subjects with plasma ferritin concentrations of over 1,000 was 6.8% +/- 2.7%. Plasma transferrin was usually saturated with iron in patients with measurable ferritin iron, but exceptions occurred. In studies using electrophoretic separation, it was shown that some ferritin iron moved to transferrin during in vitro incubation, whereas exchange in the opposite direction was extremely limited. Because some plasma ferritin iron was measured by the standard colorimetric plasma iron determination, these observations (a) indicate that plasma ferritin contains a significant amount of iron (b) indicate that a significant proportion of nontransferrin iron in individuals with nontransferrin iron as detected by standard plasma iron and total iron-binding capacity measurements is due to the presence of ferritin, and (c) suggest that large amounts of ferritin iron may affect the saturation of plasma transferrin.

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