The pivotal role of astrocytes in the metabolism of iron in the brain

Neurochem Res. 2007 Nov;32(11):1884-90. doi: 10.1007/s11064-007-9375-0. Epub 2007 Jun 6.


Iron is essential for the normal functioning of cells but since it is also capable of generating toxic reactive oxygen species, the metabolism of iron is tightly regulated. The present article advances the view that astrocytes are largely responsible for distributing iron in the brain. Capillary endothelial cells are separated from the neuropil by the endfeet of astrocytes, so astrocytes are ideally positioned to regulate the transport of iron to other brain cells and to protect them if iron breaches the blood-brain barrier. Astrocytes do not appear to have a high metabolic requirement for iron yet they possess transporters for transferrin, haemin and non-transferrin-bound iron. They store iron efficiently in ferritin and can export iron by a mechanism that involves ferroportin and ceruloplasmin. Since astrocytes are a common site of abnormal iron accumulation in ageing and neurodegenerative disorders, they may represent a new therapeutic target for the treatment of iron-mediated oxidative stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Transferrin / metabolism


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • metal transporting protein 1
  • Iron