Transferrin Receptor-Mediated Iron Uptake Promotes Colon Tumorigenesis

Hyeoncheol Kim, Luke B. Villareal, Zhaoli Liu, Mohammad Haneef, Daniel M. Falcon, David R. Martin, Ho Joon Lee, Michael K. Dame, Durga Attili, Ying Chen, James Varani, Jason R. Spence, Olga Kovbasnjuk, Justin A. Colacino, Costas A. Lyssiotis, Henry C. Lin, Yatrik M. Shah, Xiang Xue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transferrin receptor (TFRC) is the major mediator for iron entry into a cell. Under excessive iron conditions, TFRC is expected to be reduced to lower iron uptake and toxicity. However, the mechanism whereby TFRC expression is maintained at high levels in iron-enriched cancer cells and the contribution of TFRC to cancer development are enigmatic. Here the work shows TFRC is induced by adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene loss-driven β-catenin activation in colorectal cancer, whereas TFRC-mediated intratumoral iron accumulation potentiates β-catenin signaling by directly enhancing the activity of tankyrase. Disruption of TFRC leads to a reduction of colonic iron levels and iron-dependent tankyrase activity, which caused stabilization of axis inhibition protein 2 (AXIN2) and subsequent repression of the β-catenin/c-Myc/E2F Transcription Factor 1/DNA polymerase delta1 (POLD1) axis. POLD1 knockdown, iron chelation, and TFRC disruption increase DNA replication stress, DNA damage response, apoptosis, and reduce colon tumor growth. Importantly, a combination of iron chelators and DNA damaging agents increases DNA damage response and reduces colon tumor cell growth. TFRC-mediated iron import is at the center of a novel feed-forward loop that facilitates colonic epithelial cell survival. This discovery may provide novel strategies for colorectal cancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAdvanced Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • colon
  • DNA damage response
  • iron
  • TFRC
  • β-catenin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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