Medical Definition of Transferrin

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

Transferrin: A plasma protein that transports iron through the blood to the liver, spleen and bone marrow.

The blood transferrin level is tested for diverse reasons: to determine the cause of anemia, to examine iron metabolism (for example, in iron deficiency anemia) and to determine the iron-carrying capacity of the blood.

Low transferrin can impair hemoglobin production (since to make hemoglobin, you have to have iron) and so lead to anemia. Low transferrin can be due to poor production of transferrin by the liver (where it's made) or excessive loss of transferrin through the kidneys into the urine. Many conditions including infection and malignancy can depress transferrin levels. The transferrin is abnormally high in iron deficiency anemia.

The gene for transferrin is in chromosome band 3q21.

Hereditary absence of transferrin is called atransferrinemia. It is characterized by anemia and hemosiderosis (iron deposition) in the heart and liver. The iron damage to the heart can lead to heart failure. The anemia is typically microcytic and hypochromic (the red blood cells are abnormally small and pale). The disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. It is due to mutation of both of a person's transferrin genes. Atransferrinemia can be effectively treated by plasma infusions of transferrin.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018