BACKGROUND. Iron bioavailability has been identified as a factor that influences cellular hypoxia sensing, putatively via an action on the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway. We therefore hypothesized that clinical iron deficiency would disturb integrated human responses to hypoxia.
METHODS. We performed a prospective, controlled, observational study of the effects of iron status on hypoxic pulmonary hypertension. Individuals with absolute iron deficiency (ID) and an iron-replete (IR) control group were exposed to two 6-hour periods of isocapnic hypoxia. The second hypoxic exposure was preceded by i.v. infusion of iron. Pulmonary artery systolic pressure (PASP) was serially assessed with Doppler echocardiography.
RESULTS. Thirteen ID individuals completed the study and were age- and sex-matched with controls. PASP did not differ by group or study day before each hypoxic exposure. During the first 6-hour hypoxic exposure, the rise in PASP was 6.2 mmHg greater in the ID group (absolute rises 16.1 and 10.7 mmHg, respectively; 95% CI for difference, 2.7–9.7 mmHg, P = 0.001). Intravenous iron attenuated the PASP rise in both groups; however, the effect was greater in ID participants than in controls (absolute reductions 11.1 and 6.8 mmHg, respectively; 95% CI for difference in change, –8.3 to –0.3 mmHg, P = 0.035). Serum erythropoietin responses to hypoxia also differed between groups.
CONCLUSION. Clinical iron deficiency disturbs normal responses to hypoxia, as evidenced by exaggerated hypoxic pulmonary hypertension that is reversed by subsequent iron administration. Disturbed hypoxia sensing and signaling provides a mechanism through which iron deficiency may be detrimental to human health.
FUNDING. M.C. Frise is the recipient of a British Heart Foundation Clinical Research Training Fellowship (FS/14/48/30828). K.L. Dorrington is supported by the Dunhill Medical Trust (R178/1110). D.J. Roberts was supported by R&D funding from National Health Service (NHS) Blood and Transplant and a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme grant (RP-PG-0310-1004). This research was funded by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Programme.
Matthew C. Frise, Hung-Yuan Cheng, Annabel H. Nickol, M. Kate Curtis, Karen A. Pollard, David J. Roberts, Peter J. Ratcliffe, Keith L. Dorrington, Peter A. Robbins
During the period of recruitment there were 25 expressions of interest from deferred blood donors and 126 responses to advertisements for healthy volunteers. In total, 16 participants were enrolled to the IR group and 15 to the ID group. Two female participants in the ID group were withdrawn during the first hypoxic exposure. The first developed headache and nausea consistent with altitude sickness. The second experienced vasovagal syncope. Both recovered promptly without sequelae on return to air. One participant in the IR group had echocardiographic data during hypoxia that precluded accurate measurement of PASP, despite a successful screening visit. No suitable ID participants presented themselves as matches for 2 young males recruited to the IR group early in the course of the study; data for these individuals were not analyzed. Thus, 13 ID individuals completed the study and were matched with an equal number of IR controls in the per-protocol analysis; there were no missing data.