Transport of iron in the blood-brain-cerebrospinal fluid system

J Neurochem. 1997 Aug;69(2):443-54. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1997.69020443.x.


Iron is an important constituent in brain and, in certain regions, e.g., the basal nuclei, reaches concentrations equivalent to those in liver. It has a role in electron transfer and is a cofactor for certain enzymes, including those involved in catecholamine and myelin synthesis. Iron in CSF is likely to be representative of that in interstitial fluid of brain. Transferrin in CSF is fully saturated, and the excess iron may be loosely bound as Fe(II). Brain iron is regulated in iron depletion, suggesting a role for the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Iron crosses the luminal membrane of the capillary endothelium by receptor-mediated endocytosis of ferric transferrin. This results in an initial linear uptake of radioactive iron into brain at an average rate relative to serum of about 3.3 x 10(-3) ml x g of brain(-1) x h(-1) in the adult rat. This corresponds to about 80 nmol x kg(-1) x h(-1). Much higher rates occur in the postnatal rat. These increase during the first 15 days of life and decline thereafter. Within the endothelium, most of the iron is separated from transferrin, presumably by the general mechanism of acidification within the endosome. Iron appears to be absorbed from the vesicular system into cytoplasm and transported across the abluminal plasma membrane into interstitial fluid as one or more species of low molecular weight. There is some evidence that ionic Fe(II) is involved. Certainly Fe(II) ions presented on the luminal side rapidly cross the complete BBB, i.e., luminal and abluminal membranes. Within interstitial fluid, transported iron will bind with any unsaturated transferrin synthesized or transported into the brain-CSF system. Oligodendrocytes are one site of synthesis. From interstitial fluid, ferric transferrin is taken up by neurones and glial cells by the usual receptor-mediated endocytosis. Calculations of the amount of iron leaving the system with the bulk flow of CSF indicate that most iron entering brain across the capillary endothelium finally leaves the system with the bulk outflow of CSF through arachnoid villi and other channels. A system in which influx of iron into brain is by regulated receptor-mediated transport and in which efflux is by bulk flow is ideal for homeostasis of brain iron.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Ferritins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Transferrin / metabolism


  • Transferrin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron