Heme and iron metabolism: role in cerebral hemorrhage

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2003 Jun;23(6):629-52. doi: 10.1097/01.WCB.0000073905.87928.6D.


Heme and iron metabolism are of considerable interest and importance in normal brain function as well as in neurodegeneration and neuropathologically following traumatic injury and hemorrhagic stroke. After a cerebral hemorrhage, large numbers of hemoglobin-containing red blood cells are released into the brain's parenchyma and/or subarachnoid space. After hemolysis and the subsequent release of heme from hemoglobin, several pathways are employed to transport and metabolize this heme and its iron moiety to protect the brain from potential oxidative stress. Required for these processes are various extracellular and intracellular transporters and storage proteins, the heme oxygenase isozymes and metabolic proteins with differing localizations in the various brain-cell types. In the past several years, additional new genes and proteins have been discovered that are involved in the transport and metabolism of heme and iron in brain and other tissues. These discoveries may provide new insights into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Friedrich's ataxia that are associated with accumulation of iron in specific brain regions or in specific organelles. The present review will examine the uptake and metabolism of heme and iron in the brain and will relate these processes to blood removal and to the potential mechanisms underlying brain injury following cerebral hemorrhage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / metabolism*
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*


  • Heme
  • Iron