Interpreting indicators of iron status during an acute phase response – lessons from malaria and human immunodeficiency virus

Ann Clin Biochem 2008;45:18-32
© 2008 Association for Clinical Biochemistry


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Review Article

Christine A Northrop-Clewes 

Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, International Micronutrient Malnutrition Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA

Currrent address: MRC Collaborative Centre for Human Nutrition Research, 120 Fulbourn Road, Cambridge CB1 9NL, UK., Email: christine.clewes{at}

Iron status is influenced by inflammation when the normal control of iron metabolism is reorganized by the primary mediators of the acute phase response, tumour necrosis factor- and interleukin-1. The objective of this review is to show how indices of iron status, particularly haemoglobin, serum ferritin and soluble transferrin receptor concentrations relate to changes in the acute phase proteins during inflammation. The pattern of acute phase response after elective surgery, not preceded by infection, is used to demonstrate the time course of stimulation of the acute phase proteins. The changes in the concentrations of serum acute phase protein and markers of iron status during treatment for infection are used to demonstrate inter-relationships between the indicators. In many developing countries, asymptomatic malaria and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are common and may affect the interpretation of iron indicators during population assessments. Malaria produces an acute phase response and relationships between acute phase protein and indices of iron status indicate an influence of inflammation in both symptomatic and asymptomatic malaria, except when the parasitaemia is less than 1000/µL of blood when ferritin appears to be unaffected. HIV-1 impacts on haemopoiesis and anaemia. Anaemia increases in severity as the disease progresses and it is often a negative prognostic indicator. However, in individuals infected with HIV there may be an atypical acute phase response in the absence of opportunistic infections. Tentative conclusions are drawn concerning the inter-relationships between ferritin and the acute phase proteins, C-reactive protein and -1-acid glycoprotein during an acute phase response.

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