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J Inorg Biochem. 2002 Jul 25;91(1):9-18.

Molecular and cellular mechanisms of iron homeostasis and toxicity in mammalian cells.

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Unité de Biochimie, Université Catholique de Louvain, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.


Iron is an essential metal for almost all living organisms due to its involvement in a large number of iron-containing enzymes and proteins, yet it is also toxic. The mechanisms involved in iron absorption across the intestinal tract, its transport in serum and delivery to cells and iron storage within cells is briefly reviewed. Current views on cellular iron homeostasis involving the iron regulatory proteins IRP1 and IRP2 and their interactions with the iron regulatory elements, affecting either mRNA translation (ferritin and erythroid cell delta-aminolaevulinate synthase) or mRNA stability (transferrin receptor) are discussed. The potential of Fe(II) to catalyse hydroxyl radical formation via the Fenton reaction means that iron is potentially toxic. The toxicity of iron in specific tissues and cell types (liver, macrophages and brain) is illustrated by studies with appropriate cellular and animal models. In liver, the high levels of cyoprotective enzymes and antioxidants, means that to observe toxic effects substantial levels of iron loading are required. In reticuloendothelial cells, such as macrophages, relatively small increases in cellular iron (2-3-fold) can affect cellular signalling, as measured by NO production and activation of the nuclear transcription factor NF kappa B, as well as cellular function, as measured by the capacity of the cells to produce reactive oxygen species when stimulated. The situation in brain, where anti-oxidative defences are relatively low, is highly regionally specific, where iron accumulation in specific brain regions is associated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases. In the brains of animals treated with either trimethylhexanoylferrocene or aluminium gluconate, iron and aluminium accumulate, respectively. With the latter compound, iron also increases, which may reflect an effect of aluminium on the IRP2 protein. Chelation therapy can reduce brain aluminium levels significantly, while iron can also be removed, but with greater difficulty. The prospects for chelation therapy in the treatment and possible prevention of neurodegenerative diseases is reviewed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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