The labile iron pool: Characterization, measurement, and participation in cellular processes

Or Kakhlon, Z. Ioav Cabantchik

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    672 Scopus citations


    The cellular labile iron pool (LIP) is a pool of chelatable and redox-active iron, which is transitory and serves as a crossroad of cell iron metabolism. Various attempts have been made to analyze the levels of LIP following cell disruption. The chemical identity of this pool has remained poorly characterized due to the multiplicity of iron ligands present in cells. However, the levels of LIP recently have been assessed with novel nondisruptive techniques that rely on the application of fluorescent metalosensors. Methodologically, a fluorescent chelator loaded into living cells binds to components of the LIP and undergoes stoichiometric fluorescence quenching. The latter is revealed and quantified in situ by addition of strong permeating iron chelators. Depending on the intracellular distribution of the sensing and chelating probes, LIP can be differentially traced in subcellular structures, allowing the dynamic assessment of its levels and roles in specific cell compartments. The labile nature of LIP was also revealed by its capacity to promote formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), whether from endogenous or exogenous redox-active sources. LIP and ROS levels were shown to follow similar "rise and fall" patterns as a result of changes in iron import vs. iron chelation or ferritin (FT) degradation vs. ferritin synthesis. Those patterns conform with the accepted role of LIP as a self-regulatory pool that is sensed by cytosolic iron regulatory proteins (IRPs) and feedback regulated by IRP-dependent expression of iron import and storage machineries. However, LIP can also be modulated by biochemical mechanisms that override the IRP regulatory loops and, thereby, contribute to basic cellular functions. This review deals with novel methodologies for assessing cellular LIP and with recent studies in which changes in LIP and ROS levels played a determining role in cellular processes.

    Original languageAmerican English
    Pages (from-to)1037-1046
    Number of pages10
    JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
    Issue number8
    StatePublished - 15 Oct 2002


    • Cell growth
    • Chelators
    • Ferritin
    • Fluorescence
    • Free radicals
    • Iron
    • Oxidative stress
    • Transferrin


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