Iron metabolism and toxicity

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2005 Jan 15;202(2):199-211. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2004.06.021.


Iron is an essential nutrient with limited bioavailability. When present in excess, iron poses a threat to cells and tissues, and therefore iron homeostasis has to be tightly controlled. Iron's toxicity is largely based on its ability to catalyze the generation of radicals, which attack and damage cellular macromolecules and promote cell death and tissue injury. This is lucidly illustrated in diseases of iron overload, such as hereditary hemochromatosis or transfusional siderosis, where excessive iron accumulation results in tissue damage and organ failure. Pathological iron accumulation in the liver has also been linked to the development of hepatocellular cancer. Here we provide a background on the biology and toxicity of iron and the basic concepts of iron homeostasis at the cellular and systemic level. In addition, we provide an overview of the various disorders of iron overload, which are directly linked to iron's toxicity. Finally, we discuss the potential role of iron in malignant transformation and cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Free Radicals / adverse effects
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron / toxicity*
  • Iron Overload / physiopathology
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects


  • Free Radicals
  • Iron