A Computational Model of Human Iron Metabolism

  • Simon Mitchell

Student thesis: Phd


Iron is essential for virtually all organisms, yet it can be highly toxic if not properly regulated. Only the Lyme disease pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi has evolved to not require iron (Aguirre et al., 2013).Recent findings have characterised elements of the iron metabolism network, but understanding of systemic iron regulation remains poor. To improve understanding and provide a tool for in silico experimentation, a computational model of human iron metabolism has been constructed.COPASI was utilised to construct a model that included detailed modelling of iron metabolism in liver and intestinal cells. Inter-cellular interactions and dietary iron absorption were included to create a systemic computational model. Parameterisation was performed using a wide variety of literature data.Validation of the model was performed using published experimental and clinical findings, and the model was found to recreate quantitatively and accurately many results. Analysis of sensitivities in the model showed that, despite enterocytes being the only route of iron uptake, almost all control over the system is provided by reactions in the liver. Metabolic control analysis identified key regulatory factors and potential therapeutic targets.A virtual haemochromatosis patient was created and compared to a simulation of a healthy human. The redistribution of control in haemochromatosis was analysed in order to improve our understanding of the condition and identify promising therapeutic targets.Cellular prion protein (PrP) is an enigmatic protein, implicated in disease when misfolded, but its physiological role remains a mystery. PrP was recently found to have ferric-reductase capacity. Potential sites of ferric reduction were simulated and the findings compared to PrP knockout mice experiments. I propose that the physiological role of PrP is in the chemical reduction of endocytosed ferric iron to its ferrous form following transferrin receptor-mediated uptake.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPedro Pedrosa Mendes (Supervisor)


  • haemochromatosis
  • prion
  • human
  • simulation
  • systems biology
  • metabolism
  • iron
  • computational model

Cite this