Reduced metal transferrin binding in neurological diseases

  • Paul S. Hodgkins

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


By employing G75 gel-filtration chromotography, it has been demonstrated that human plasma gallium speciation (and by implication, Al speciation) is bimodal. Normally, gallium was predominantly bound to a high molecular weight fraction which was presumably transferrin. Literature reviews and experimental work throughout this thesis provided evidence to support this idea. An aluminium-transferrin species was assumed to be relatively non-toxic and a protective function for this complex has been suggested. A second, low molecular weight species of gallium was observed and its identity has been suggested to be citrate. The results of this thesis support the concept citrate was a gallium binding ligand present in the plasma, but there was another species (tentatively identified as phosphate) which bound gallium to a much greater degree than did citrate in the majority of samples studied. The consequence of a low molecular weight species of aluminium is the possibility that this leads to a more rapid, uncontrolled deposition of the metal in the brain compared to a transferrin mediated mechanism.
Plasma speciation studies in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Down's syndrome, and neonates has revealed an altered ratio of the two gallium species found in control subjects. In all groups there was an increase in the potentially more neurotoxic low molecular weight species. These observations have led to a suggested mechanism of accumulation of metals in the brain, which is known to occur in the first three groups. Possible pathogenic mechanisms are described. The results can also offer an explanation to the reported increased sensitivity to the toxic effects of aluminium in the neonate.
Speciation studies on normal plasma has shown the balance between high and low molecular weight species of gallium to be influenced by many physiological factors. There appears to be a fine equilibrium between both species which can be altered without any great difficulty. Therefore, in the diseased groups studied, it is possible that there are subtle biochemical changes within the circulatory system to affect the equilibrium which results in an increased low molecular weight species of aluminium. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that there is a group of normal controls with no clinical signs of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease which have reduced transferrin binding. This indicates there is a population of healthy people who are at risk to the development of either disease.
Date of AwardMay 1992
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn A. Blair (Supervisor) & Gillian Farrar (Supervisor)


  • aluminium
  • transferrin
  • oxidative damage
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Parkinson's disease

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