Beyond hereditary hemochromatosis: New insights into the relationship between iron overload and chronic liver diseases

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Following the model of hereditary hemochromatosis, the possible role of iron overload as a cofactor for disease progression in acquired liver diseases has been investigated with controversial results. In recent years, progress has been made in understanding the regulation of iron metabolism, thereby allowing the evaluation of the mechanisms linking liver diseases to excessive iron accumulation. Indeed, deregulation of the transcription of hepcidin, emerging as the master regulator of systemic iron metabolism, has been implicated in the pathogenesis of hepatic iron overload in chronic liver diseases. Whatever the cause, hepatocellular iron deposition promotes liver fibrogenesis, while an emerging possible aggravating factor is represented by the strong link between iron stores and insulin resistance, a recently recognized risk factor for the progression of liver diseases. Overall, these pathogenic mechanisms, together with the known proliferative and mutagenic effect of excess iron, converge in determining an increased susceptibility to hepatocellular carcinoma. Finally, an association between serum ferritin levels and mortality in patients with end-stage liver disease has recently been reported.Prospective, randomized studies are required to evaluate whether iron depletion may reduce fibrosis progression, hepatocellular carcinoma development, and eventually mortality in patients with chronic liver diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalDigestive and Liver Disease
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


  • Chronic hepatitis C
  • Hepatocarcinoma
  • Hepcidin
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology
  • Hepatology


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