Iron metabolism in the reticuloendothelial system

Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2003;38(1):61-88. doi: 10.1080/713609210.


Comprised mainly of monocytes and tissue macrophages, the reticuloendothelial system (RES) plays two major roles in iron metabolism: it recycles iron from senescent red blood cells and it serves as a large storage depot for excess iron. Although iron recycling by the RES represents the largest pathway of iron efflux in the body, the precise mechanisms involved have remained elusive. However, studies characterizing the function and regulation of Nramp1, DMT1, HFE, FPN1, CD163, and hepcidin are rapidly expanding our knowledge of the molecular aspects of RE iron handling. This review summarizes fundamental physiological and biochemical aspects of iron metabolism in the RES and focuses on how recent studies have advanced our understanding of these areas. Also discussed are novel insights into the molecular mechanisms contributing to the abnormal RE iron metabolism characteristic of hereditary hemochromatosis and the anemia of chronic disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / metabolism
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Ceruloplasmin / metabolism
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Hemochromatosis / genetics
  • Hemochromatosis / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Hepcidins
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Mononuclear Phagocyte System / metabolism*
  • Transferrin / metabolism


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • HAMP protein, human
  • Hemoglobins
  • Hepcidins
  • Transferrin
  • natural resistance-associated macrophage protein 1
  • Iron
  • Ceruloplasmin