A histochemical study of iron, transferrin, and ferritin in Alzheimer's diseased brains

J Neurosci Res. 1992 Jan;31(1):75-83. doi: 10.1002/jnr.490310111.


Immunohistochemical and histochemical staining were performed on Alzheimer's diseased brain tissue obtained at autopsy. The iron-regulatory proteins transferrin and ferritin as well as iron are, in general, found predominantly in oligodendrocytes similar to that previously reported for normal brain tissue. However, in the vicinity of senile plaques, the staining pattern is altered for both proteins and iron. Transferrin is homogenously distributed around the senile plaques and is apparently extracellular. In addition, transferrin is found in astrocytes in the cerebral cortical white matter of the Alzheimer's tissue rather than its normal distribution in oligodendrocytes. A robust ferritin immunoreaction accompanies senile plaques and many blood vessels in the Alzheimer's brain tissue. Although many ferritin-positive oligodendrocytes are present in the Alzheimer's tissue, most of the ferritin-containing cells associated with senile plaques and blood vessels are microglia. Iron can also be demonstrated in the senile plaques. The iron reaction product is observed both diffusely in proximity of the plaques and in cells associated with the plaques. These data strongly suggest a disruption in brain iron homeostasis in Alzheimer's disease as demonstrated by alterations in the normal cellular distribution of iron and the proteins responsible for iron regulation. These data will contribute to understanding both the potential for oxidative damage and the potential for metal neurotoxicity in Alzheimer's disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Brain Chemistry*
  • Cerebral Cortex / chemistry
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Ferritins / analysis*
  • Hippocampus / chemistry
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Iron / analysis*
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / chemistry
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / pathology
  • Transferrin / analysis*


  • Transferrin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron