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People with heart failure often suffer from an iron deficiency. If they are then treated with iron, they feel better, are more resilient, have to go to the hospital less often and may live longer. Scientists have now found out why. They were able to show the positive effects of therapy with iron and why iron is so important for the functioning of the heart.
It has been known for some years that even a slight iron deficiency is disadvantageous for heart failure, even if there is no anemia yet. With iron deficiency anemia, not enough red blood cells can be formed that carry oxygen in the body. Here it is obvious that you get tired quickly and are physically less resilient. Iron is not only important for the transport of oxygen, but is also required in the cell's power plants, the mitochondria. If there is a lack of iron, the mitochondria can produce less energy. The heart muscle, however, relies on a high energy supply for its pumping function.
To find out how the iron balance in cardiac muscle cells is regulated, researchers switched off so-called Irp proteins in cardiac muscle cells. Irp proteins regulate the iron content in the cell. If Irp proteins are inactivated, less iron can be absorbed into the cell. There is no longer enough iron available for vital metabolic processes, and the mitochondria can then work worse.
Mice that turned off the Irp proteins developed iron deficiency in the heart, but not in the blood and other organs. The animals did not notice anything under resting conditions, but their hearts could not increase the pumping function during physical exertion; After a heart attack, the animals developed pronounced heart failure. The cause was insufficient energy production in the mitochondria. When the researchers gave the mice iron, they were able to replenish their iron stores in the heart, the heart muscle cells again produced sufficient energy, and the heart function normalized.