AIMS: To determine whether nontransferrin bound iron is present in the serum of long term survivors of acute leukaemia and bone marrow transplantation who have liver dysfunction as indicated by consistently raised serum aspartate aminotransferase (AST) activities. METHODS: Thirty eight patients, who were at least three years from the end of treatment, were studied. Serum samples were analysed for hepatitis C, hepatitis B, AST, ferritin, and non-transferrin bound iron. A bleomycin based assay was used to detect non-transferrin bound iron. Patient and blood bank records were examined to determine the number of units of transfused blood received by each patient. RESULTS: Ten patients had consistently raised serum AST activities. Of these, two had evidence of hepatitis C infection, one had chronic hepatitis B infection and one had chronic graft versus host disease affecting the liver. None of these four patients had detectable non-transferrin bound iron. The remaining six patients had no obvious reason for raised AST activities, but four had non-transferrin bound iron detectable in their serum as compared with only two out of 28 patients with normal AST activities. Patients with abnormal AST activities had higher serum ferritin concentrations than those with normal AST, though serum ferritin was raised in 21 of 28 patients without liver dysfunction. CONCLUSION: Non-transferrin bound iron may be found in this group of patients, suggesting that iron overload is the cause of the observed liver dysfunction. Non-transferrin bound iron may also be a more specific indicator of iron overload than the serum ferritin concentrations.
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