Transferrin is an essential requirement for lymphocyte proliferation, because it supplies activated lymphocytes with iron needed for cell proliferation. However, during inflammation or an immune response, the iron content of circulating transferrin, which is of hepatic origin, decreases. It is hypothesized that activated lymphocytes may therefore obtain transferrin-iron from an alternative source, and we have investigated the possibility that transferrin is synthesized locally in lymphoid tissues. It was found that lymph node cells from mice stimulated in vivo with Freund's complete adjuvant were able to synthesize transferrin, and this was because of the macrophage rather than the lymphocyte population. Transferrin synthesized by mouse lymph node or peritoneal macrophages contained iron and was able to promote mouse lymphocyte proliferation. Peritoneal macrophages activated in vivo synthesized more transferrin, released more transferrin-bound iron, and were more effective than resident macrophages at enhancing lymphocyte proliferation. These results suggest that transferrin synthesized by macrophages acts in a paracrine manner to support lymphocyte proliferation, thus eliminating possible detrimental effect of hypoferremia on the immune system.

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