Pathophysiology of iron overload

Chaim Hershko*, Gabriela Link, Ioav Cabantchik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

218 Scopus citations


In thalassemia, iron overload is the joint outcome of excessive iron absorption and transfusional siderosis. While iron absorption is limited by a physiologic ceiling of about 3 mg/d, plasma iron turnover in thalassemia may be 10 to 15 times normal, caused by the wasteful, ineffective erythropoiesis of an enormously expanded erythroid marrow. This outpouring of catabolic iron exceeds the ironbinding capacity of transferrin and appears in plasma as non-transferrin-plasma iron (NTPI). The toxicity of NTPI is much higher than of transferrin-iron as judged by its ability to promote hydroxyl radical formation resulting in peroxidative damage to membrane lipids and proteins. In the heart, this results in impaired function of the mitochrondrial respiratory chain and abnormal energy metabolism manifested clinically in fatal hemosiderotic cardiomyopathy. Ascorbate increases the efficacy of iron chelators by expanding the intracellular chelatable iron pool, but, at suboptimal concentrations is a pro-oxidant, enhancing the catalytic effect of iron in free radical formation, NTPI is removed by i.v. DFO in a biphasic manner and reappears rapidly upon cessation of DFO, lending support to the continuous, rather than intermittent, use of chelators. Unlike DFO and other hexadentate chelators, bidentate chelators such as L1 may produce incomplete intermediate iron complexes at suboptinal drug concentrations.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - 1998


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