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Semin Immunol. 2012 Dec;24(6):393-8. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2013.01.001. Epub 2013 Jan 30.

Systemic and cellular consequences of macrophage control of iron metabolism.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.


Iron is necessary for both mammalian cells and microorganisms, which fiercely compete for this essential nutrient. Accordingly, macrophages exploit the denial of iron from microbial pathogens as an important strategy to accomplish their key role in innate immunity and host defense. Macrophages employ multiple mechanisms to accumulate iron and thus contain microbial infections, but this may come at a price. In particular, at the systemic level iron sequestration in the reticuloendothelial cells can lead to the development of anemia of chronic disease. At the local level, iron sequestration in macrophages, which is targeted to extracellular invaders, can in turn favor intracellular pathogens. Moreover, iron accumulation can per se promote pro-inflammatory activation of macrophages and consequently contribute to maintain the process of inflammation, without resolution. Finally, the peculiar iron trafficking that characterizes alternatively polarized macrophages can influence neighboring cells in the microenvironment and impact on the resolution phase of inflammation. In this review, we describe the role of macrophages in iron metabolism in the context of host defense and iron balance.

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