Natural Resistance, Iron and Infection: A Challenge for Clinical Medicine

J Med Microbiol. 2006 Mar;55(Pt 3):251-258. doi: 10.1099/jmm.0.46386-0.


Natural resistance to infection, which does not depend on antibiotics, is a powerful protective mechanism common to all mankind that has been responsible for the survival of our species during countless millennia in the past. The normal functioning of this complex system of phagocytic cells and tissue fluids is entirely dependent on an extremely low level of free ionic iron (10(-18) M) in tissue fluids. This low-iron environment is maintained by the unsaturated iron-binding proteins transferrin and lactoferrin, which depend on well-oxygenated tissues, where a relatively high oxidation-reduction potential (Eh) and pH are essential for the binding of ferric iron. Freely available iron is derived from iron overload, free haem compounds, or hypoxia in injured tissue leading to a fall in Eh and pH. This can severely damage or abolish normal bactericidal mechanisms in tissue fluids leading to overwhelming growth of bacteria or fungi. The challenge for clinical medicine is to reduce or eliminate the presence of freely available iron in clinical disease. In injured or hypoxic tissue, treatment with hyperbaric oxygen might prove very useful by increasing tissue oxygenation and restoring normal bactericidal mechanisms in tissue fluids, which would be of huge benefit to the patient.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Candida / pathogenicity
  • Candidiasis / immunology*
  • Candidiasis / microbiology
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Overload


  • Iron