Cellular and Molecular Biology

Ferritin in glioblastoma


Elevated levels of serum ferritin (SF) are observed in several types of cancer; however, little is known on the association between ferritin and glioma, the most frequent type of human primary brain tumour. Here we report that GBM patients show significantly increased pre-surgical SF levels (i.e. ferritinaemia) within the SF reference range and a marked ferritin immunoreactivity of resected tumour tissue. Our findings account for an indirect association between ferritin synthesis in glioma-tissue and altered SF levels, which limits the clinical value of SF as a tumour marker in glioma. Importantly, we show for the first time that GBM-derived glioma cells release ferritin in vitro, which exerts an apoptosis-stimulating activity. Albeit the pathophysiologic context of apoptosis induction by a tumour-derived ferritin remains to be defined, our findings account for a distinct growth-regulatory role of these ferritin species in tumour biology.

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Fig. 1: Ferritin in serum and resected tumour tissue of GBM and meningioma patients.
Fig. 2: Cultured human glioma cells release an apoptosis-stimulating ferritin in vitro.


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The authors acknowledge Mag. Afazel-Saeedi Shahrzad (Institute for Medical and Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics, Salzburger Landeskliniken (SALK), Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg (PMU), Austria) for technical assistance.

Author information

All authors had full access to all the data in the study, and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Study concept and design: N.B., H.J-B., S.W. and P.E. Experimental work: H.J-B. and N.B. Data analysis and interpretation: N.B., H.J-B., S.S-K., P.A. and P.S. Preparation of the paper: N.B., H.J-B., P.A., S.S-K. and P.S. Material support: S.S-K (human glioma cell line) and P.A. (antibodies). Study supervisors: N.B., P.E. and S.W. Collection of clinical samples: R.A-S., S.G. and Y.E.

Correspondence to Nikolaus Bresgen.

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Ethics approval and consent to participate

The study was approved by the local research ethics committee Salzburg, Austria (415-EP/33/3-2008). Written informed consent was obtained from all patients. The study was performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Not applicable.

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Data are available from the corresponding author.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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The work was supported by the Research Support Fund of the Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg (PMU-FFF E-09/09/048-GOL).

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Jaksch-Bogensperger, H., Spiegl-Kreinecker, S., Arosio, P. et al. Ferritin in glioblastoma. Br J Cancer (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41416-020-0808-8

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