Reabsorption of iron into acutely damaged rat liver: A role for ferritins

World J Gastroenterol. 2017 Nov 7;23(41):7347-7358. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v23.i41.7347.


Aim: To studied iron metabolism in liver, spleen, and serum after acute liver-damage, in relation to surrogate markers for liver-damage and repair.

Methods: Rats received intraperitoneal injection of the hepatotoxin thioacetamide (TAA), and were sacrificed regularly between 1 and 96 h thereafter. Serum levels of transaminases and iron were measured using conventional laboratory assays. Liver tissue was used for conventional histology, immunohistology, and iron staining. The expression of acute-phase cytokines, ferritin light chain (FTL), and ferritin heavy chain (FTH) was investigated in the liver by qRT-PCR. Western blotting was used to investigate FTL and FTH in liver tissue and serum. Liver and spleen tissue was also used to determine iron concentrations.

Results: After a short initial decrease, iron serum concentrations increased in parallel with serum transaminase (aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase) levels, which reached a maximum at 48 h, and decreased thereafter. Similarly, after 48 h a significant increase in FTL, and after 72h in FTH was detected in serum. While earliest morphological signs of inflammation in liver were visible after 6 h, increased expression of the two acute-phase cytokines IFN-γ (1h) and IL-1β (3h) was detectable earlier, with maximum values after 12-24 h. Iron concentrations in liver tissue increased steadily between 1 h and 48 h, and remained high at 96 h. In contrast, spleen iron concentrations remained unchanged until 48 h, and increased mildly thereafter (96 h). Although tissue iron staining was negative, hepatic FTL and FTH protein levels were strongly elevated. Our results reveal effects on hepatic iron concentrations after direct liver injury by TAA. The increase of liver iron concentrations may be due to the uptake of a significant proportion of the metal by healthy hepatocytes, and only to a minor extent by macrophages, as spleen iron concentrations do not increase in parallel. The temporary increase of iron, FTH and transaminases in serum is obviously due to their release by damaged hepatocytes.

Conclusion: Increased liver iron levels may be the consequence of hepatocyte damage. Iron released into serum by damaged hepatocytes is obviously transported back and stored via ferritins.

Keywords: Acute liver damage; Cytokines; Ferritin; Iron metabolism; Liver.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / blood
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / pathology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Ferritins / metabolism*
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism*
  • Hepatocytes / pathology
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spleen / metabolism
  • Spleen / pathology
  • Thioacetamide / toxicity
  • Transaminases / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Thioacetamide
  • Ferritins
  • Iron
  • Transaminases