The roles of iron in health and disease.
Iron is vital for almost all living organisms by participating in a wide variety of metabolic processes, including oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and electron transport. However, iron concentrations in body tissues must be tightly regulated because excessive iron leads to tissue damage, as a result of formation of free radicals. Disorders of iron metabolism are among the most common diseases of humans and encompass a broad spectrum of diseases with diverse clinical manifestations, ranging from anemia to iron overload and, possibly, to neurodegenerative diseases. The molecular understanding of iron regulation in the body is critical in identifying the underlying causes for each disease and in providing proper diagnosis and treatments. Recent advances in genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry of iron metabolism have assisted in elucidating the molecular mechanisms of iron homeostasis. The coordinate control of iron uptake and storage is tightly regulated by the feedback system of iron responsive element-containing gene products and iron regulatory proteins that modulate the expression levels of the genes involved in iron metabolism. Recent identification and characterization of the hemochromatosis protein HFE, the iron importer Nramp2, the iron exporter ferroportin1, and the second transferrin-binding and -transport protein transferrin receptor 2, have demonstrated their important roles in maintaining body's iron homeostasis. Functional studies of these gene products have expanded our knowledge at the molecular level about the pathways of iron metabolism and have provided valuable insight into the defects of iron metabolism disorders. In addition, a variety of animal models have implemented the identification of many genetic defects that lead to abnormal iron homeostasis and have provided crucial clinical information about the pathophysiology of iron disorders. In this review, we discuss the latest progress in studies of iron metabolism and our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms of iron absorption, transport, utilization, and storage. Finally, we will discuss the clinical presentations of iron metabolism disorders, including secondary iron disorders that are either associated with or the result of abnormal iron accumulation.