Iron, neuromelanin and ferritin content in the substantia nigra of normal subjects at different ages: consequences for iron storage and neurodegenerative processes

J Neurochem. 2001 Mar;76(6):1766-73. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.2001.00186.x.


Information on the molecular distribution and ageing trend of brain iron in post-mortem material from normal subjects is scarce. Because it is known that neuromelanin and ferritin form stable complexes with iron(III), in this study we measured the concentration of iron, ferritin and neuromelanin in substantia nigra from normal subjects, aged between 1 and 90 years, dissected post mortem. Iron levels in substantia nigra were 20 ng/mg in the first year of life, had increased to 200 ng/mg by the fourth decade and remained stable until 90 years of age. The H-ferritin concentration was also very low (29 ng/mg) during the first year of life but increased rapidly to values of approximately 200 ng/mg at 20 years of age, which then remained constant until the eighth decade of life. L-Ferritin also showed an increasing trend during life although the concentrations were approximately 50% less than that of H-ferritin at each age point. Neuromelanin was not detectable during the first year, increased to approximately 1000 ng/mg in the second decade and then increased continuously to 3500 ng/mg in the 80th year. A Mössbauer study revealed that the high-spin trivalent iron is probably arranged in a ferritin-like iron--oxyhydroxide cluster form in the substantia nigra. Based on this data and on the low H- and L-ferritin content in neurones it is concluded that neuromelanin is the major iron storage in substantia nigra neurones in normal individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Ferritins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Degeneration / metabolism
  • Reference Values
  • Substantia Nigra / growth & development
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology


  • Melanins
  • neuromelanin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron