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Environ Health Insights. 2016 Mar 7;10:35-43. doi: 10.4137/EHI.S36225. eCollection 2016.

Effects of Environmental Pollutants on Cellular Iron Homeostasis and Ultimate Links to Human Disease.

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Environmental Public Health Division, NHEERL/ORD/US Environmental Protection Agency, Durham, NC, USA.


Chronic disease has increased in the past several decades, and environmental pollutants have been implicated. The magnitude and variety of diseases may indicate the malfunctioning of some basic mechanisms underlying human health. Environmental pollutants demonstrate a capability to complex iron through electronegative functional groups containing oxygen, nitrogen, or sulfur. Cellular exposure to the chemical or its metabolite may cause a loss of requisite functional iron from intracellular sites. The cell is compelled to acquire further iron critical to its survival by activation of iron-responsive proteins and increasing iron import. Iron homeostasis in the exposed cells is altered due to a new equilibrium being established between iron-requiring cells and the inappropriate chelator (the pollutant or its catabolite). Following exposure to environmental pollutants, the perturbation of functional iron homeostasis may be the mechanism leading to adverse biological effects. Understanding the mechanism may lead to intervention methods for this major public health concern.


environmental pollution; ferritin; iron; transferrin receptor

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