The liver: conductor of systemic iron balance

Blood. 2014 Jan 9;123(2):168-76. doi: 10.1182/blood-2013-06-427757. Epub 2013 Nov 7.


Iron is a micronutrient essential for almost all organisms: bacteria, plants, and animals. It is a metal that exists in multiple redox states, including the divalent ferrous (Fe(2+)) and the trivalent ferric (Fe(3+)) species. The multiple oxidation states of iron make it excellent for electron transfer, allowing iron to be selected during evolution as a cofactor for many proteins involved in central cellular processes including oxygen transport, mitochondrial respiration, and DNA synthesis. However, the redox cycling of ferrous and ferric iron in the presence of H2O2, which is physiologically present in the cells, also leads to the production of free radicals (Fenton reaction) that can attack and damage lipids, proteins, DNA, and other cellular components. To meet the physiological needs of the body, but to prevent cellular damage by iron, the amount of iron in the body must be tightly regulated. Here we review how the liver is the central conductor of systemic iron balance and show that this central role is related to the secretion of a peptide hormone hepcidin by hepatocytes. We then review how the liver receives and integrates the many signals that report the body's iron needs to orchestrate hepcidin production and maintain systemic iron homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Hepcidins / genetics
  • Hepcidins / metabolism
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Hepcidins
  • Iron