The physiological site of iron storage in the human bone marrow is the macrophage (orthotopic iron store). Iron-storing plasma cells, as bone marrow indicators of iron overload, and/or chronic alcoholism represent a pathological (heterotopic) iron store. They were demonstrated by light and electron microscopy in 23 iron-overloaded patients: transfusional siderosis (n = 8), genetic haemochromatosis (GH; n = 11), iron-loading anaemias (n = 4) and in patients with bone marow impairment due to chronic alcoholism (n = 6). The pattern of iron storage in bone marrow plasma cells was monitored during iron loading in patients receiving continuous transfusional therapy (n = 7) and also upon reversal of iron overload by repeated phlebotomies in GH (n = 9) and in iron-loading anaemias (n = 4). The first ultrastructural evidence of iron storage in plasma cells was the appearance of free ferritin molecules in the cytosol, thus indicating endogenous ferritin synthesis. Accumulation of iron proceeded with the additional formation of ferritin- and haemosiderin-containing lysosomes (siderosomes) in these cells. Lysosomal ferritin partially showed a paracrystalline arrray. The siderosomes originated from autophagocytosis of cytoplasmic areas containing free ferritin molecules. In addition, the formation of ferritin-containing vesicles in the proximity of the Golgi apparatus was observed. The heterotopic iron store of bone marrow plasma cells was less readily mobilizable by blood-letting than the orthotopic store of macrophages.

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