Publication Details

Morgan, J., Bell, R. & Jones, A. L. (2020). Endogenous doesn’t always mean innocuous: a scoping review of iron toxicity by inhalation. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part B: Critical Reviews, 23 (3), 107-136.


Ambient air pollution is a leading risk factor for the global burden of disease. One possible pathway of particulate matter (PM)-induced toxicity is through iron (Fe), the most abundant metal in the atmosphere. The aim of the review was to consider the complexity of Fe-mediated toxicity following inhalation exposure focusing on the chemical and surface reactivity of Fe as a transition metal and possible pathways of toxicity via reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation as well as considerations of size, morphology, and source of PM. A broad term search of 4 databases identified 2189 journal articles and reports examining exposure to Fe via inhalation in the past 10 years. These were sequentially analyzed by title, abstract and full-text to identify 87 articles publishing results on the toxicity of Fe-containing PM by inhalation or instillation to the respiratory system. The remaining 87 papers were examined to summarize research dealing with in vitro, in vivo and epidemiological studies involving PM containing Fe or iron oxide following inhalation or instillation. The major findings from these investigations are summarized and tabulated. Epidemiological studies showed that exposure to Fe oxide is correlated with an increased incidence of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and several respiratory diseases. Iron PM was found to induce inflammatory effects in vitro and in vivo and to translocate to remote locations including the brain following inhalation. A potential pathway for the PM-containing Fe-mediated toxicity by inhalation is via the generation of ROS which leads to lipid peroxidation and DNA and protein oxidation. Our recommendations include an expansion of epidemiological, in vivo and in vitro studies, integrating research improvements outlined in this review, such as the method of particle preparation, cell line type, and animal model, to enhance our understanding of the complex biological interactions of these particles.

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