Myelomonocytic cells are critically involved in iron turnover as aged RBC recyclers. Human monocytes are divided in 3 subpopulations of classical, intermediate, and nonclassical cells, differing in inflammatory and migratory phenotype. Their functions in iron homeostasis are, however, unclear. Here, we asked whether the functional diversity of monocyte subsets translates into differences in handling physiological and pathological iron species. By microarray data analysis and flow cytometry we identified a set of iron-related genes and proteins upregulated in classical and, in part, intermediate monocytes. These included the iron exporter ferroportin (FPN1), ferritin, transferrin receptor, putative transporters of non-transferrin-bound iron (NTBI), and receptors for damaged erythrocytes. Consequently, classical monocytes displayed superior scavenging capabilities of potentially toxic NTBI, which were augmented by blocking iron export via hepcidin. The same subset and, to a lesser extent, the intermediate population, efficiently cleared damaged erythrocytes in vitro and mediated erythrophagocytosis in vivo in healthy volunteers and patients having received blood transfusions. To summarize, our data underline the physiologically important function of the classical and intermediate subset in clearing NTBI and damaged RBCs. As such, these cells may play a nonnegligible role in iron homeostasis and limit iron toxicity in iron overload conditions.
Keywords: Immunology; Innate immunity; Metabolism; Monocytes.