Thursday, February 26, 2015

Of Iron, bacteria, hemochromatosis and plague

Iron is one unsung hero in our body. Apart from oxygen transport, it plays a vital role in constituting important enzymes as well as some detoxification reactions and also in converting sugars into energy.

But, during infections,the same iron stored in our body can prove lethal. It has been studied that bacteria use our very own iron stores to launch a full scale attack. That is why, intracellular bacteria like Mycobacteriae which use iron repositories in macrophages can cause so much damage.
It has been observed that a certain Somalian population, despite being anaemic was resistant to diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and so on. When doctors prescribed iron supplements, infections gained an upper hand. Actually, the population wasn't facing the infection despite the anaemia, but because of it!

Going by this, wouldn't patients with hemochromatosis be a playground for bacteria?


Let me explain. Patients of hemochromatosis also have an another mutation, C282Y on HFE gene. This results into decreased levels of the C282Y protein, resulting into increased sensitivity of the WBCs to the chelator, transferrin resulting further into bacteria being unable to use iron as it remains 'locked' away at sites rather inaccessible to them.

Where does plague come into this?
It is being thought that when plague was rampaging through Europe, population with hemochromatosis was rather resistant and hence the gene for the disease was selected. This is why people of northern and western European descent have a higher prevalence of hemochromatosis.

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