Diagnostic morphology: biophysical indicators for iron-driven inflammatory diseases

Integr Biol (Camb). 2014 May;6(5):486-510. doi: 10.1039/c4ib00025k.


Most non-communicable diseases involve inflammatory changes in one or more vascular systems, and there is considerable evidence that unliganded iron plays major roles in this. Most studies concentrate on biochemical changes, but there are important biophysical correlates. Here we summarize recent microscopy-based observations to the effect that iron can have major effects on erythrocyte morphology, on erythrocyte deformability and on both fibrinogen polymerization and the consequent structure of the fibrin clots formed, each of which contributes significantly and negatively to such diseases. We highlight in particular type 2 diabetes mellitus, ischemic thrombotic stroke, systemic lupus erythematosus, hereditary hemochromatosis and Alzheimer's disease, while recognizing that many other diseases have co-morbidities (and similar causes). Inflammatory biomarkers such as ferritin and fibrinogen are themselves inflammatory, creating a positive feedback that exacerbates disease progression. The biophysical correlates we describe may provide novel, inexpensive and useful biomarkers of the therapeutic benefits of successful treatments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Blood Coagulation / immunology
  • Erythrocyte Deformability / immunology
  • Erythrocytes / immunology*
  • Erythrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Fibrin / immunology*
  • Fibrin / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Iron / immunology*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force


  • Fibrin
  • Iron