The promise of targeting iron in the brain for Parkinson’s

Original article:  Iron as a therapeutic target for Parkinson’s disease, Movement Disorders: Jan 30, 2018.

The takeaway

Iron builds up in the key brain area connected to movement in Parkinson’s, and this excessive iron is harmful to neurons. Two smaller phase II trials have shown that the repurposed drug Deferiprone that mops up excess iron is safe and tolerable, and shows promise in modifying movement symptoms. Two larger phase III trials are currently recruiting.

Why is it important?

This review explains why targeting iron build up in the brain may offer significant benefit in people with Parkinson’s.



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Impact Opinion


Iron is often discussed in connection to red blood cells where too little of it can cause anaemia. However, too much iron can also cause damage, since balanced iron levels are essential for chemical reactions that keep all cells alive, including neurons. One of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s is excessive iron build up in the key brain area connected to movement, the substantia nigra. This can be observed by MRI or ultrasound, and is linked to the characteristic “hyperechogenicity” of this region in Parkinson’s.

This excess iron hampers neuronal survival directly, and increases the build up of a-synuclein which damages neurons as it forms clumps inside them. So reducing this excess iron using “iron chelator” drugs should be beneficial. One of these is Deferiprone, often used in blood disorders where regular blood transfusions can unintentionally cause iron overload. Since it crosses the blood-brain barrier, an important hurdle when targeting the brain, it mops up excess iron and counteracts its toxic effect on neurons. Based on this and strong evidence from animal studies, Deferiprone was prioritised by the LCT committee in 2012 as a potential disease modifying therapy.

The details

Two phase II trials addressing the safety and tolerability of Deferiprone in people with Parkinson’s showed promising in terms of movement scores and overall good tolerability, with the exception of three cases of immune cell reduction which resolved rapidly. These relatively small, placebo controlled studies showed that Deferiprone reduced iron in brain regions controlling movement, and patients also showed indications of symptom improvement.

FAIRPARK II (link below), a larger European multicenter, parallel-group, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial, is recruiting newly diagnosed patients to assess whether Deferiprone can slow down Parkinson’s. 388 people will take Deferiprone orally twice daily or placebo for 9 months, and will be monitored over the course of a month after the end of the treatment period. Their movement scores as well as aspects of quality of life and cognition will be assessed.

Next steps

If Deferiprone has a disease modifying effect in these phase II studies, then a Phase III trial is the next step to further assess its efficacy in a larger group of people with Parkinson’s.

Where can I learn more?

Martin-Bastida, A., Ward, R. J., Newbould, R., Piccini, P., Sharp, D., Kabba, C., . . . Dexter, D. T. (2017). Brain iron chelation by deferiprone in a phase 2 randomised double-blinded placebo controlled clinical trial in Parkinson’s disease. Sci Rep, 7(1), 1398. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01402-2

Devos, D., Moreau, C., Devedjian, J.C., et al. (2014). Targeting chelatable iron as a therapeutic modality in Parkinson’s disease. Antioxid Redox Signal, 21, 195-210.


Original article:  Moreau, C., Duce, J. A., Rascol, O., Devedjian, J. C., Berg, D., Dexter, D., . . . group, F.-I. s. Jan 30, 2018. Iron as a therapeutic target for Parkinson’s disease.


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