Brain iron uptake is regulated by the expression of transferrin receptor 1 in endothelial cells of the blood-brain barrier. Transferrin-bound iron in the systemic circulation is endocytosed by brain endothelial cells, and elemental iron is released to brain interstitial fluid, likely by the iron exporter, ferroportin. Transferrin synthesized by oligodendrocytes in the brain binds much of the iron that traverses the blood-brain barrier after oxidation of the iron, most likely by a glycophosphosinositide-linked ceruloplasmin found in astrocytic foot processes that ensheathe brain endothelial cells. Neurons acquire iron from diferric transferrin, but it is less clear how glial cells acquire iron. In aging mammals, iron accumulates in the basal ganglia, and iron accumulation is believed to contribute to neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson and Alzheimer disease. Here we consider the possibility that iron accumulations, which are often thought to facilitate free radical generation and oxidative damage, may contain insoluble iron that is unavailable for cellular use, and the pathology associated with iron accumulations may result from functional iron deficiency in some diseases.
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