Iron metabolism in infections: Focus on COVID-19

Semin Hematol. 2021 Jul;58(3):182-187. doi: 10.1053/j.seminhematol.2021.07.001. Epub 2021 Jul 24.


Iron is a micronutrient essential for a wide range of metabolic processes in virtually all living organisms. During infections, a battle for iron takes place between the human host and the invading pathogens. The liver peptide hepcidin, which is phylogenetically and structurally linked to defensins (antimicrobial peptides of the innate immunity), plays a pivotal role by subtracting iron to pathogens through its sequestration into host cells, mainly macrophages. While this phenomenon is well studied in certain bacterial infections, much less is known regarding viral infections. Iron metabolism also has implications on the functionality of cells of the immune system. Once primed by the contact with antigen presenting cells, lymphocytes need iron to sustain the metabolic burst required for mounting an effective cellular and humoral response. The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted an amount of clinical and translational research over the possible influences of nutrients on SARS-CoV-2 infection, in terms of either susceptibility or clinical course. Here we review the intersections between iron metabolism and COVID-19, belonging to the wider domain of the so-called "nutritional immunity". A better understanding of such connections has potential broad implications, either from a mechanistic standpoint, or for the development of more effective strategies for managing COVID-19 and possible future pandemics.

Keywords: COVID-19; Ferritin; Hepcidin; Immunity; Iron.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / immunology
  • COVID-19* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Lymphocytes
  • Pandemics


  • Iron