Iron overload (IOL) starts to develop in MDS patients before they become transfusion-dependent because ineffective erythropoiesis suppresses hepcidin production in the liver and thus leads to unrestrained intestinal iron uptake. However, the most important cause of iron overload in MDS is chronic transfusion therapy. While transfusion dependency by itself is a negative prognostic factor reflecting poor bone marrow function, the ensuing transfusional iron overload has an additional dose-dependent negative impact on the survival of patients with lower risk MDS. Cardiac dysfunction appears to be important in this context, as a consequence of chronic anemia, age-related cardiac comorbidity, and iron overload. Another potential problem is iron-related endothelial dysfunction. There is some evidence that with increasing age, high circulating iron levels worsen the atherosclerotic phenotype. Transfusional IOL also appears to aggravate bone marrow failure in MDS, through unfavorable effects on mesenchymal stromal cells as well a hematopoietic cells, particularly erythroid precursors. Patient series and clinical trials have shown that the iron chelators deferoxamine and deferasirox can improve hematopoiesis in a minority of transfusion-dependent patients. Analyses of registry data suggest that iron chelation provides a survival benefit for patients with MDS, but data from a prospective randomized clinical trial are still lacking.
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