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Biometals. 2004 Apr;17(2):135-9.

Hemochromatosis and the enigma of misplaced iron: implications for infectious disease and survival.

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Department of Physiology, University of Toronto, Surrey Place Centre, Toronto, Canada.


The mystery surrounding the apparent lack of iron within the macrophages of individuals with hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition of excessive uptake of dietary iron, has yet to be fully explained. We have suggested that iron deficiency of macrophages in people with hereditary hemochromatosis mutations is associated with increased resistance to infection by Yersinia and other intracellular pathogens, a selection pressure resulting in unusually high current population frequencies of hereditary hemochromatosis mutations. Such selection pressure has been called Epidemic Pathogenic Selection (EPS). In support of the theory of EPS, a considerable number of virulent species of bacteria multiply mainly in iron-rich macrophages of their mammalian hosts. Among these fastidious pathogens are strains of Chlamydia, Coxiella, Francisella, Legionella, Mycobacterium, Salmonella and Yersinia. Iron deficiency of macrophages of persons with hereditary hemochromatosis gene mutations may result in increased resistance to members of these bacterial pathogens. People with genes that result in hereditary hemochromatosis may be protected against coronary artery disease associated with Chlamydia and Coxiella infection in the absence of iron overload. In the clinical setting, when a patient appears to be iron deficient, the reason for this should be carefully evaluated. Iron supplementation may adversely affect the health of individuals who have mounted an acute phase response to infection, injury or stress, or who carry genes predisposing them to iron overload disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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