Redistribution of accumulated cell iron: a modality of chelation with therapeutic implications

Blood. 2008 Feb 1;111(3):1690-9. doi: 10.1182/blood-2007-07-102335. Epub 2007 Nov 1.


Various pathologies are characterized by the accumulation of toxic iron in cell compartments. In anemia of chronic disease, iron is withheld by macrophages, leaving extracellular fluids iron-depleted. In Friedreich ataxia, iron levels rise in the mitochondria of excitable cells but decrease in the cytosol. We explored the possibility of using deferiprone, a membrane-permeant iron chelator in clinical use, to capture labile iron accumulated in specific organelles of cardiomyocytes and macrophages and convey it to other locations for physiologic reuse. Deferiprone's capacity for shuttling iron between cellular organelles was assessed with organelle-targeted fluorescent iron sensors in conjunction with time-lapse fluorescence microscopy imaging. Deferiprone facilitated transfer of iron from extracellular media into nuclei and mitochondria, from nuclei to mitochondria, from endosomes to nuclei, and from intracellular compartments to extracellular apotransferrin. Furthermore, it mobilized iron from iron-loaded cells and donated it to preerythroid cells for hemoglobin synthesis, both in the presence and in the absence of transferrin. These unique properties of deferiprone underlie mechanistically its capacity to alleviate iron accumulation in dentate nuclei of Friedreich ataxia patients and to donate tissue-chelated iron to plasma transferrin in thalassemia intermedia patients. Deferiprone's shuttling properties could be exploited clinically for treating diseases involving regional iron accumulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / drug effects
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Endosomes / drug effects
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Chelating Agents / pharmacology*
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Rats
  • Transferrin / metabolism


  • Hemoglobins
  • Iron Chelating Agents
  • Transferrin
  • Iron