Non-heme (Fe3+) in the lung increases with age in both humans and rats

J Lab Clin Med. 1997 Jan;129(1):53-61. doi: 10.1016/s0022-2143(97)90161-x.


Increasing non-heme iron concentrations in host tissues are potentially significant, because they can be associated with an increased risk of injury including infections, fibrosis, and neoplasms. We tested the hypothesis that non-heme (Fe3+) in the lung increases with age in both humans and rats. Human tissue was collected at autopsy before fixation occurred. The total number of specimens was 131 with 78 nonsmokers and 53 smokers. Tissue was hydrolyzed in 3 N hydrochloric acid and 10% trichloroacetic acid. Supernatant (Fe3+) was measured with a thiocyanate assay. Non-heme (Fe3+) increased with age in nonsmokers. The correlation coefficient between lung (Fe3+) and age in the nonsmokers was 0.58 (p < 0.0001). Iron stains were negative, whereas those for ferritin demonstrated increased uptake with aging. Smokers had significantly greater non-heme (Fe3+) relative to nonsmokers (101.1 and 46.0 micromol/L respectively; T = 11.44, p < 0.0001). Lung non-heme (Fe3+) in smokers also increased with age (r = 0.75; p < 0.0001). Iron stains demonstrated uptake in the proximity of retained pigmented material. Ferritin stains demonstrated intense uptake in both the macrophages and the airway and alveolar epithelium of smokers. An animal model was also analyzed for an effect of aging on lung non-heme (Fe3+). At specified times between 30 and 186 days of age, rats (n = 48) were anesthetized and exsanguinated, and the lungs were excised. In rats, similar to humans, a positive correlation was seen between lung non-heme (Fe3+) and age (r = 0.73; p = 0.007). Stains for iron in rat lung were uniformly negative, whereas those for ferritin demonstrated increased uptake by airway and alveolar epithelium in older rats. We conclude that non-heme (Fe3+) in lung tissue increases with age in both humans and rats. Elevations in lung non-heme (Fe3+) could contribute to an increased incidence of pneumonias, pulmonary fibrosis, and bronchogenic carcinoma observed among older individuals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Ferric Compounds / analysis*
  • Ferric Compounds / metabolism
  • Ferritins / analysis
  • Ferritins / immunology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Lung / chemistry*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Diseases / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rats
  • Smoking


  • Ferric Compounds
  • Ferritins