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Significance: Oxygen metabolism and iron homeostasis are closely linked. Iron facilitates the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, and its deficiency causes anemia. Conversely, excess free iron is detrimental for stimulating the formation of reactive oxygen species, causing tissue damage. The amount and distribution of iron thus need to be tightly regulated by the liver-expressed hormone hepcidin. This review analyzes the roles of key oxygen-sensing pathways in cellular and systemic regulation of iron homeostasis; specifically, the prolyl hydroxylase domain (PHD)/hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) and the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1/NF-E2 p45-related factor 2 (KEAP1/NRF2) pathways, which mediate tissue adaptation to low and high oxygen, respectively. Recent Advances: In macrophages, NRF2 regulates genes involved in hemoglobin catabolism, iron storage, and iron export. NRF2 was recently identified as the molecular sensor of iron-induced oxidative stress and is responsible for BMP6 expression by liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, which in turn activates hepcidin synthesis by hepatocytes to restore systemic iron levels. Moreover, NRF2 orchestrates the activation of antioxidant defenses that are crucial to protect against iron toxicity. On the contrary, low iron/hypoxia stabilizes renal HIF2a via inactivation of iron-dependent PHD dioxygenases, causing an erythropoietic stimulus that represses hepcidin via an inhibitory effect of erythroferrone on bone morphogenetic proteins. Intestinal HIF2a is also stabilized, increasing the expression of genes involved in dietary iron absorption. Critical Issues: An intimate crosstalk between oxygen-sensing pathways and iron regulatory mechanisms ensures that fluctuations in systemic iron levels are promptly detected and restored. Future Directions: The realization that redox-sensitive transcription factors regulate systemic iron levels suggests novel therapeutic approaches. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 35, 433-452.

Original publication




Journal article


Antioxid Redox Signal

Publication Date





433 - 452


BMP, HIF, PHD, antioxidant, hepcidin, oxygen, Homeostasis, Humans, Hypoxia, Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit, Iron, Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1, NF-E2-Related Factor 2, Oxidation-Reduction