Impaired iron recycling from erythrocytes is an early hallmark of aging

Elife. 2023 Jan 31:12:e79196. doi: 10.7554/eLife.79196.


Aging affects iron homeostasis, as evidenced by tissue iron loading and anemia in the elderly. Iron needs in mammals are met primarily by iron recycling from senescent red blood cells (RBCs), a task chiefly accomplished by splenic red pulp macrophages (RPMs) via erythrophagocytosis. Given that RPMs continuously process iron, their cellular functions might be susceptible to age-dependent decline, a possibility that has been unexplored to date. Here, we found that 10- to 11-month-old female mice exhibit iron loading in RPMs, largely attributable to a drop in iron exporter ferroportin, which diminishes their erythrophagocytosis capacity and lysosomal activity. Furthermore, we identified a loss of RPMs during aging, underlain by the combination of proteotoxic stress and iron-dependent cell death resembling ferroptosis. These impairments lead to the retention of senescent hemolytic RBCs in the spleen, and the formation of undegradable iron- and heme-rich extracellular protein aggregates, likely derived from ferroptotic RPMs. We further found that feeding mice an iron-reduced diet alleviates iron accumulation in RPMs, enhances their ability to clear erythrocytes, and reduces damage. Consequently, this diet ameliorates hemolysis of splenic RBCs and reduces the burden of protein aggregates, mildly increasing serum iron availability in aging mice. Taken together, we identified RPM collapse as an early hallmark of aging and demonstrated that dietary iron reduction improves iron turnover efficacy.

Keywords: cell biology; ferroportin; hepcidin; mouse; proteostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / physiology
  • Female
  • Hemolysis
  • Iron* / metabolism
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis* / physiology
  • Protein Aggregates


  • Iron
  • Protein Aggregates

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE199879

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.