The transition metal iron is essential for life, yet potentially toxic iron-catalyzed reactive oxygen species (ROS) are unavoidable in an oxygen-rich environment. Iron and ROS are increasingly recognized as important initiators and mediators of cell death in a variety of organisms and pathological situations. Here, we review recent discoveries regarding the mechanism by which iron and ROS participate in cell death. We describe the different roles of iron in triggering cell death, targets of iron-dependent ROS that mediate cell death and a new form of iron-dependent cell death termed ferroptosis. Recent advances in understanding the role of iron and ROS in cell death offer unexpected surprises and suggest new therapeutic avenues to treat cancer, organ damage and degenerative disease.
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