January 11, 2018

Lighting up iron levels

A new probe enables iron imaging in living animals, providing a unique tool for studying iron’s contributions to health and disease.

The metal iron is required for life, and disruption in iron levels has been connected to cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegeneration and aging.

Current tools for detecting iron – in its various chemical forms – are mostly limited to studies of cell cultures or isolated tissues. Now, Eric Skaar, PhD, MPH, and colleagues have validated a probe for iron imaging in living animals. The probe, iron-caged luciferin-1 (ICL-1), was developed by investigators at the University of California at Berkeley. ICL-1 reacts with iron pools to trigger a quantifiable bioluminescent “glow.”

The researchers used the probe in a mouse model of systemic bacterial infection with a pathogen (Acinetobacter baumannii) that causes hospital-acquired infections. ICL-1 revealed increased iron accumulation in infected mice that was consistent with results from methods for measuring total iron in tissues.

The ICL-1 probe, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a unique tool for assessing iron status in living animals and for studying iron’s contributions to health and disease.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (GM079645, AI101171, AI105106, DK101293).

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