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Life Extension Magazine March 2012


Iron-induced oxidant stress leads to irreversible mitochondrial dysfunctions and fibrosis in the liver of chronic iron-dosed gerbils. The effect of silybin.

Hepatic iron toxicity because of iron overload seems to be mediated by lipid peroxidation of biological membranes and the associated organelle dysfunctions. However, the basic mechanisms underlying this process in vivo are still little understood. Gerbils were dosed with weekly injections of iron-dextran alone or in combination with sylibin, a well-known antioxidant, by gavage for 8 weeks. A strict correlation was found between lipid peroxidation and the level of desferrioxamine chelatable iron pool. A consequent derangement in the mitochondrial energy-transducing capability, resulting from a reduction in the respiratory chain enzyme activities, occurred. These irreversible oxidative anomalies brought about a dramatic drop in tissue ATP level. The mitochondrial oxidative derangement was associated with the development of fibrosis in the hepatic tissue. Silybin administration significantly reduced both functional anomalies and the fibrotic process by chelating desferrioxamine chelatable iron.

J Bioenerg Biomembr. 2000 Apr;32(2):175-82

Iron accumulation during cellular senescence in human fibroblasts in vitro.

Iron accumulates as a function of age in several tissues in vivo and is associated with the pathology of numerous age-related diseases. The molecular basis of this change may be due to a loss of iron homeostasis at the cellular level. Therefore, changes in iron content in primary human fibroblast cells (IMR-90) were studied in vitro as a model of cellular senescence. Total iron content increased exponentially during cellular senescence, resulting in 10-fold higher levels of iron compared with young cells. Low-dose hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) induced early senescence in IMR-90s and concomitantly accelerated iron accumulation. Furthermore, senescence-related and H2O2-stimulated iron accumulation was attenuated by N-tert-butylhydroxylamine (NtBHA), a mitochondrial antioxidant that delays senescence in vitro. However, SV40-transformed, immortalized IMR-90s showed no time-dependent changes in metal content in culture or when treated with H2O2 and/or NtBHA. These data indicate that iron accumulation occurs during normal cellular senescence in vitro. This accumulation of iron may contribute to the increased oxidative stress and cellular dysfunction seen in senescent cells.

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2003 Oct;5(5):507-16

Iron toxicity in diseases of aging: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and atherosclerosis.

Excess free iron generates oxidative stress that hallmarks diseases of aging. The observation that patients with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease show a dramatic increase in their brain iron content has opened the possibility that disturbances in brain iron homeostasis may contribute to the pathogenesis of these disorders. While the reason for iron accumulation is unknown, iron localization correlates with the production of reactive oxygen species in those areas of the brain that are prone to neurodegeneration. A role for iron is also proposed in atherosclerosis, a further frequent disorder of aging. We will review experimental evidences for an involvement of iron in these diseases and discuss some mouse models with impairment in iron-related genes that may be useful to study the role of iron in these disorders.

J Alzheimers Dis. 2009;16(4):879-95

MRI evaluation of brain iron in earlier- and later-onset Parkinson’s disease and normal subjects.

Tissue iron levels in the extrapyramidal system of earlier- and later-onset Parkinson’s disease (PD) subjects were evaluated in vivo using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method. The method involves scanning subjects in both high- and low-field MRI instruments, measuring tissue relaxation rate (R2), and calculating the field-dependent R2 increase (FDRI) which is the difference between the R2 measured with the two MRI instruments. In tissue, only ferritin iron is known to increase R2 in a field-dependent manner and the FDRI measure is a specific measure of this tissue iron pool. Two groups of male subjects with PD and two age-matched groups of normal control males were studied. The two groups of six subjects with PD consisted of subjects with earlier- or later-onset (before or after age 60) PD. FDRI was measured in five subcortical structures: the substantia nigra reticulata (SNR), substantia nigra compacta (SNC), globus pallidus, putamen, and caudate nucleus, and in one comparison region; the frontal white matter. Earlier-onset PD subjects had significant (p < 0.05) increases in FDRI in the SNR, SNC, putamen, and globus pallidus, while later-onset PD subjects had significantly decreased FDRI in the SNR when compared to their respective age-matched controls. Controlling for illness duration or structure size did not meaningfully alter the results. Published post-mortem studies on SN iron levels indicate decreased ferritin levels and increased free iron levels in the SN of older PD subjects, consistent with the decreased FDRI observed in our later-onset PD sample, which was closely matched in age to the post-mortem PD samples. The FDRI results suggest that disregulation of iron metabolism occurs in PD and that this disregulation may differ in earlier- versus later-onset PD.

Magn Reson Imaging. 1999 Feb;17(2):213-22

In vivo MR evaluation of age- related increases in brain iron.

PURPOSE: To assess the validity of an MR method of evaluating tissue iron. METHODS: The difference between the transverse relaxation rate (R2) measured with a high-field MR instrument and the R2 measured with a lower field instrument defines a measure termed the field-dependent R2 increase (FDRI). Previous in vivo and in vitro studies indicated that FDRI is a specific measure of tissue iron stores (ferritin). T2 relaxation times were obtained using two clinical MR instruments operating at 0.5 T and 1.5 T. T2 relaxation times were measured in the frontal white matter, caudate nucleus, putamen, and globus pallidus of 20 healthy adult male volunteers with an age range of 20 to 81 years. R2 was calculated as the reciprocal of T2 relaxation time. These in vivo MR results were correlated with previously published postmortem data on age-related increases of nonheme iron levels. RESULTS: The FDRI was very highly correlated with published brain iron levels for the four regions examined. In the age range examined, robust and highly significant age-related increases in FDRI were observed in the caudate and putamen. The correlations of age and FDRI in the globus pallidus and white matter were significantly lower and did not have statistical significance. CONCLUSIONS: The data provide additional evidence that FDRI is a specific measure of tissue iron stores. The data also show that age-related increases in tissue iron stores can be quantified in vivo despite significant age-related processes that oppose the increase in R2 caused by iron. These results are relevant to the investigation of neurodegenerative processes in which iron may catalyze toxic free-radical reactions.

AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 1994 Jun;15(6):1129-38

In vivo evaluation of brain iron in Alzheimer’s disease and normal subjects using MRI.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can measure transverse relaxation rate (R2) of tissues. Although R2 is increased by tissue iron levels, R2 is not a specific measure of iron. A new method, based on the fact that ferritin (the primary tissue iron storage protein) affects R2 in a field-dependent manner, can quantify tissue iron with specificity by measuring the Field Dependent R2 Increase (FDRI). Using the FDRI method, we compared brain iron stores in frontal white matter, caudate nucleus, putamen, and globus pallidus of five male patients with Alzheimer disease (AD) and eight age and gender-matched normal controls. FDRI values were significantly higher among AD patients in the caudate and globus pallidus. The data suggest that AD may involve disturbances in brain iron metabolism and that the involvement of iron in the pathophysiology of age-related neurodegenerative disorders can be investigated in vivo using MRI.

Biol Psychiatry. 1994 Apr 1;35(7):480-7

MRI evaluation of basal ganglia ferritin iron and neurotoxicity in Alzheimer’s and Huntingon’s disease.

BACKGROUND: The basal ganglia contain the highest levels of iron in the brain and post-mortem studies indicate a disruption of iron metabolism in the basal ganglia of patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Huntington’s disease (HD). Iron can catalyze free radical reactions and may contribute to oxidative damage observed in AD and HD brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can quantify transverse relaxation rates, which can be used to quantify tissue iron stores as well as evaluate increases in MR-visible water (an indicator of tissue damage). METHODS: A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method termed the field dependent relaxation rate increase (FDRI) was employed which quantifies the iron content of ferritin molecules (ferritin iron) with specificity through the combined use of high and low field-strength MRI instruments. Three basal ganglia structures (caudate, putamen and globus pallidus) and one comparison region (frontal lobe white matter) were evaluated. Thirty-one patients with AD and a group of 68 older control subjects, and 11 patients with HD and a group of 27 adult controls participated (4 subjects overlap between AD and HD controls). RESULTS: Compared to their respective normal control groups, increases in basal ganglia FDRI levels were seen in both AD and HD. FDRI levels were significantly increased in the caudate (p = 0.007) and putamen (p = 0.008) of patients with AD with a trend toward an increase in the globus pallidus (p = 0.13). In the patients with HD, all three basal ganglia regions showed highly significant FDRI increases (p<0.001) and the magnitude of the increases were 2 to 3 times larger than those observed in AD versus control group comparison. For both HD andAD subjects, the basal ganglia FDRI increase was not a generalized phenomenon, as frontal lobe white matter FDRI levels were decreased in HD (p = 0.015) and remained unchanged in AD. Significant low field relaxation rate decreases (suggestive of increased MR-visible water and indicative of tissue damage) were seen in the frontal lobe white matter of both HD and AD but only the HD basal ganglia showed such decreases. CONCLUSIONS: The data suggest that basal ganglia ferritin iron is increased in HD and AD. Furthermore, the increased iron levels do not appear to be a byproduct of the illness itself since they seem to be present at the onset of the diseases, and thus may be considered a putative risk factor. Published post-mortem studies suggest that the increase in basal ganglia ferritin iron may occur through different mechanisms in HD and AD. Consistent with the known severe basal ganglia damage, only HD basal ganglia demonstrated significant decreases in low field relaxation rates. MRI can be used to dissect differences in tissue characteristics, such as ferritin iron and MR-visible water, and thus could help clarify neuropathologic processes in vivo. Interventions aimed at decreasing brain iron levels, as well as reducing the oxidative stress associated with increased iron levels, may offer novel ways to delay the rate of progression and possibly defer the onset of AD and HD.

Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2000 Jun;46(4):821-33

MR evaluation of age-related increase of brain iron in young adult and older normal males.

The purposes of this study were to extend the investigation of age-related increases in brain iron to a younger age group, replicate previously published results, and further evaluate the validity of a novel noninvasive magnetic resonance (MR) method for measuring tissue iron (ferritin) levels with specificity. The method consists of measuring the dependence of tissue transverse relaxation rates (R2) on the field strength of MR instruments. Two MR instruments operating at 1.5 and 0.5 T were used to measure the field-dependent R2 increase (FDRI) in the frontal white matter, caudate, putamen, and globus pallidus. A group of 13 normal adult males (ages 21-77), with seven subjects below and six above age 35, was examined. As expected from postmortem and prior FDRI data, robust and significant age-related increases in FDRI were observed in the caudate, putamen, and globus pallidus, with the globus pallidus FDRI increasing sharply in the second decade and reaching a plateau after age 30. In addition, we replicated previous reports showing very high correlations between FDRI and published brain iron levels for the four regions examined. The data replicate and extend previous FDRI observations on brain aging and are consistent with postmortem data on age-related increases in brain iron. These results are relevant to the investigation of age-related neurodegenerative diseases in which iron may catalyze toxic free radical reactions.

Magn Reson Imaging. 1997;15(1):29-35

Brain ferritin iron as a risk factor for age at onset in neurodegenerative diseases.

Tissue iron can promote oxidative damage. Brain iron increases with age and is abnormally elevated early in the disease process in several neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). Higher iron levels in males may contribute to higher risk for younger-onset PD and recent studies have linked the presence of the hemochromatosis gene with a younger age at onset of AD. We examined whether age at onset of PD and AD was associated with increased brain ferritin iron. Ferritin iron can be measured with specificity in vivo with MRI utilizing the field-dependent relaxation rate increase (FDRI) method. FDRI was assessed in three basal ganglia regions (caudate, putamen, and globus pallidus) and frontal lobe white matter for younger- and older-onset male PD and AD patients and healthy controls. Significant increases in basal ganglia FDRI levels were observed in the younger-onset groups of both diseases compared to their respective control groups, but were absent in the older-onset patients. The results support the suggestion that elevated ferritin iron and its associated toxicity is a risk factor for age at onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as AD and PD. Clinical phenomena such as gender-associated risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and the age at onset of such diseases may be associated with brain iron levels. In vivo MRI can measure and track brain ferritin iron levels and provides an opportunity to design therapeutic interventions that target high-risk populations early in the course of illness, possibly even before symptoms appear.

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Mar;1012:224-36

Gender and iron genes may modify associations between brain iron and memory in healthy aging.

Brain iron increases with age and is abnormally elevated early in the disease process in several neurodegenerative disorders that impact memory including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Higher brain iron levels are associated with male gender and presence of highly prevalent allelic variants in genes encoding for iron metabolism proteins (hemochromatosis H63D (HFE H63D) and transferrin C2 (TfC2)). In this study, we examined whether in healthy older individuals memory performance is associated with increased brain iron, and whether gender and gene variant carrier (IRON+) vs noncarrier (IRON-) status (for HFE H63D/TfC2) modify the associations. Tissue iron deposited in ferritin molecules can be measured in vivo with magnetic resonance imaging utilizing the field-dependent relaxation rate increase (FDRI) method. FDRI was assessed in hippocampus, basal ganglia, and white matter, and IRON+ vs IRON- status was determined in a cohort of 63 healthy older individuals. Three cognitive domains were assessed: verbal memory (delayed recall), working memory/attention, and processing speed. Independent of gene status, worse verbal-memory performance was associated with higher hippocampal iron in men (r=-0.50, p=0.003) but not in women. Independent of gender, worse verbal working memory performance was associated with higher basal ganglia iron in IRON- group (r=-0.49, p=0.005) but not in the IRON+ group. Between-group interactions (p=0.006) were noted for both of these associations. No significant associations with white matter or processing speed were observed. The results suggest that in specific subgroups of healthy older individuals, higher accumulations of iron in vulnerable gray matter regions may adversely impact memory functions and could represent a risk factor for accelerated cognitive decline. Combining genetic and MRI biomarkers may provide opportunities to design primary prevention clinical trials that target high-risk groups.

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Jun;36(7):1375-84

Brain ferritin iron may influence age- and gender-related risks of neurodegeneration.

BACKGROUND: Brain iron promotes oxidative damage and protein oligomerization that result in highly prevalent age-related proteinopathies such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB). Men are more likely to develop such diseases at earlier ages than women but brain iron levels increase with age in both genders. We hypothesized that brain iron may influence both the age- and gender-related risks of developing these diseases. METHODS: The amount of iron in ferritin molecules (ferritin iron) was measured in vivo with MRI by utilizing the field dependent relaxation rate increase (FDRI) method. Ferritin iron was measured in four subcortical nuclei [caudate (C), putamen (P), globus pallidus (G), thalamus (T)], three white matter regions [frontal lobe (Fwm), genu and splenium of the corpus callosum (Gwm, Swm)] and hippocampus (Hipp) in 165 healthy adults aged 19-82. RESULTS: There was a high correlation (r>0.99) between published post-mortem brain iron levels and FDRI. There were significant age-related changes in ferritin iron (increases in Hipp, C, P, G, and decreases in Fwm). Women had significantly lower ferritin iron than men in five regions (C, T, Fwm, Gwm, Swm). CONCLUSIONS: This is the first demonstration of gender differences in brain ferritin iron levels. It is possible that brain iron accumulation is a risk factor that can be modified. MRI provides the opportunity to assess brain iron levels in vivo and may be useful in targeting individuals or groups for preventive therapeutic interventions.

Neurobiol Aging. 2007 Mar;28(3):414-23

Premenopausal hysterectomy is associated with increased brain ferritin iron.

Iron is essential for triggering oligodendrocytes to myelinate, however, in gray matter (GM) iron increases with age and is associated with age-related degenerative brain diseases. Women have lower iron levels than men, both in the periphery and in the brain, particularly in white matter (WM), possibly due to iron loss through menstruation. We tested the hypothesis that hysterectomy could increase WM iron levels. We assessed 3 WM and 5 gray matter regions in 39 postmenopausal women, of whom 15 had premenopausal hysterectomy, utilizing a validated magnetic resonance imaging technique called field-dependent R2 increase (FDRI) that quantifies ferritin iron. A group of 54 matched male subjects was included for comparison. Amongst women, hysterectomy was associated with significantly higher frontal lobe WM iron. Men had higher iron levels than women without hysterectomy in 3 brain regions but did not differ from women with hysterectomy in any region. The results suggest that menstruation-associated blood loss is a source of gender differences in brain iron. It is possible that brain iron can be influenced by peripheral iron levels and may thus be a modifiable risk factor for age-related degenerative diseases.

Neurobiol Aging. 2011 Sep 16