The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine
Online ISSN : 1349-3329
Print ISSN : 0040-8727
Invited Review
Aquisition, Mobilization and Utilization of Cellular Iron and Heme: Endless Findings and Growing Evidence of Tight Regulation
Shigeru Taketani
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2005 Volume 205 Issue 4 Pages 297-318


Iron is fastidiously utilized by living cells, since it is an essential element, but is toxic in excess. Cells take up iron via a transferrin-transferrin receptor-dependent endocytotic process. The iron thus taken up is used for essential biological functions including oxygen transport, electron transfer, and DNA synthesis. The intracellular level of iron is tightly controlled, through regulation of the cellular uptake of iron and the sequestering of low molecular labile iron into the storage protein ferritin. The known proteins of iron transport and storage, transferrin, transferrin receptor and ferritin, have been recently linked with a number of newly identified proteins that are responsible for inherited diseases of iron metabolisms and play critical roles in the maintenance of iron homeostasis. These proteins are involved in regulation of intracellular levels of iron, iron transport, and heme transport and the oxygen-dependent regulation of gene expression. On the other hand, most iron is transported into mitochondria and immediately used for the biosynthesis of heme in erythroid cells. The heme biosynthesis in mitochondria is coupled with the supply of iron, and the heme, exported from mitochondria, is utilized as prosthetic groups of hemeproteins. Furthermore, non-erythroid and erythroid cells possess the different regulatory systems for the biosynthesis of heme; iron positively regulates the biosynthesis in erythroid cells while heme negatively regulates it in non-erythroid cells. Because of the toxicity and insolubility of heme, the intracellular level of uncommitted heme is maintained at a low concentration (< 10−9 M). The influx and efflux of heme also help to prevent cytotoxicity. Finally, heme-binding transcriptional factors such as Bach1 and NPAS2 regulate the transcription of several genes involved in the synthesis and degradation of heme-hemeproteins. The discovery of new molecules related to disorders of iron and heme metabolism is ascribable to a complete mechanistic understanding of the cellular network of iron homeostasis. The network of interactions that link iron and heme metabolisms with functions of cellular regulation involving oxidative stress and inflammations contributes to new insights into clinical aspects of disorders.

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© 2005 Tohoku University Medical Press
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