Anemia of chronic disease (ACD)—or more aptly “anemia of inflammation”— is the second most common cause of anemia after iron deficiency and is associated with numerous acute or chronic conditions (eg, infection, cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic organ rejection, and chronic kidney disease)1.
The hallmark of ACD is disturbances in iron homeostasis which result in increased uptake and retention of iron within cells of the reticuloendothelial system, with its attendant diversion of iron from the circulation and reduced availability for erythropoiesis1. More specifically, pathogens, cancer cells, or even the body’s own immune system stimulate CD3+ T cells and macrophages to produce a variety of cytokines, (eg, interferon-ɤ, TNF-α, IL-1, IL-6, and IL-10) which in turn increase iron storage within macrophages through induction of expression of ferritin, transferrin and divalent metal transporter 1.
In addition to increased macrophage storage of iron, ACD is also associated with IL-6-induced synthesis of hepcidin, a peptide secreted by the liver that decreases iron absorption from the duodenum and its release from macrophages2. TNF-α and interferon-ɤ also contribute to ACD by inhibiting the production of erythropoietin by the kidney. Finally, the life span of RBCs is adversely impacted in AKD due to their reduced deformability and increased adherence to the endothelium in inflammatory states3.
Of interest, it is often postulated that by limiting access to iron through inflammation, the body hinders the growth of pathogens by depriving them of this important mineral2.
- Weiss, G and Goodnough, L. Anemia of chronic disease. N Engl J Med 2005; 352; 1011-23. http://www.med.unc.edu/medclerk/medselect/files/anemia2.pdf
- D’Angelo, G. Role of hepcidin in the pathophysiology and diagnosis of anemia. Blood Res 2013; 48(1): 10-15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3624997/pdf/br-48-10.pdf
- Straat M, van Bruggen R, de Korte D, et al. Red blood cell clearance in inflammation. Transfus Med Hemother 2012;39:353-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678279/pdf/tmh-0039-0353.pdf
Contributed by Amir Hossein Ameri, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School