Pathways of iron absorption

Blood Cells Mol Dis. Nov-Dec 2002;29(3):336-55. doi: 10.1006/bcmd.2002.0564.


Iron is vital for all living organisms but excess iron can be lethal because it facilitates free radical formation. Thus iron absorption is carefully regulated to maintain an equilibrium between absorption and body loss of iron. In countries where meat is a significant part of the diet, most body iron is derived from dietary heme because heme binds few of the dietary chelators that bind inorganic iron. Uptake of heme into enterocytes occurs as a metalloporphyrin in an endosomal process. Intracellular iron is released from heme by heme oxygenase to enter plasma as inorganic iron. Ferric iron is absorbed via a beta(3) integrin and mobilferrin pathway (IMP) which is unshared with other nutritional metals. Ferrous iron uptake is facilitated by a DMT-1 pathway which is shared with manganese. In the iron deficient gut, large quantities of both mobilferrin and DMT-1 are found in goblet cells and intraluminal mucins suggesting that they are secreted with mucin into the intestinal lumen to bind iron to facilitate uptake by the cells. In the cytoplasm, IMP and DMT associate in a large protein complex called paraferritin which serves as a ferrireductase. Paraferritin solublizes iron binding proteins and reduces iron to make iron available for production of iron containing proteins such as heme. Iron uptake by intestinal absorptive cells is regulated by the iron concentration within the cell. Except in hemochromatosis it remains in equilibrium with total body stores via transferrin receptors on the basolateral membrane of absorptive cells. Increased intracellular iron either up-regulates or satiates iron binding proteins on regulatory proteins to alter their location in the intestinal mucosa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Duodenum / metabolism
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Deficiencies
  • Rats


  • Iron