[en] OBJECTIVE: Serum levels of the soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR) vary depending on the erythropoietic activity and iron status. In vitro, sTfR shed in the incubation medium correlates well with cellular TfR, but this relationship has never been established in vivo. To determine the value of serum sTfR as a quantitative marker of the body mass of tissue TfR, we designed experiments to examine the correlation between serum sTfR and tissue TfR in rats with various degrees of erythropoietic activity or iron status. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We studied changes in erythropoietic activity in normal rats as well as in animals experiencing hemolysis, phlebotomy-induced iron deficiency, transfusion- or thiamphenicol-induced erythroid aplasia, or inflammation. At the end of follow-up, ferrokinetic studies were performed and animals were sacrificed. Organs were isolated and homogenized to determine the total mass of tissue TfR from the sum of tissue solubilized TfR in the bone marrow, spleen, liver, and blood cells (direct method). An indirect method was developed to derive the corporeal mass of tissue TfR from a representative marrow sample. RESULTS: As expected, serum sTfR and total mass of tissue TfR varied as a function of iron status and erythropoiesis. Relative erythroid expansion in the spleen was greater than in the bone marrow. With the exception of phlebotomized animals, the indirect method correlated very well with direct measurements of the total mass of tissue TfR (r = 0.97, p < 0.0001). There was a close relationship between the total mass of tissue TfR and the total mass of serum sTfR (r = 0.79, p < 0.0001). Serum sTfR represented approximately 5-6% of the total mass of tissue TfR in most experimental situations, but this ratio was twice as high during iron-restricted erythropoiesis. In addition, the ratio could be higher or lower in nonsteady-state situations, because changes in tissue TfR occurred faster than those of serum sTfR. CONCLUSIONS: Serum sTfR represents a constant proportion of the total mass of tissue TfR over a wide range of erythropoietic activity. However, iron deficiency results in a higher proportion of serum sTfR, and the pace of change in serum sTfR levels is slower than that of tissue TfR mass.