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The role of iron in restless legs syndrome


  • Richard P. Allen MD, PhD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
    • Neurology and Sleep Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Asthma and Allergy Bldg 1B76b, 5501 Hopkins Bayview Circle, Baltimore, MD 21224
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  • Christopher J. Earley PhD

    1. Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
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The impressive relief from restless legs syndrome (RLS) symptoms provided by levodopa treatment indicates RLS is caused by a dopaminergic abnormality. But similar and more lasting relief also occurs for iron treatment in some patients. Thus there are two major putative causes for RLS: CNS dopaminergic abnormality and CNS iron insufficiency. This article presents the data documenting that both peripheral and CNS iron insufficiency occur with RLS symptoms. Brain iron insufficiency is supported by independently replicated cerebrospinal fluid and brain imaging studies for patients without iron deficiency (ID) anemia. Autopsy studies and intravenous iron treatment further link brain iron insufficiency to RLS. The brain iron insufficiency in patients with RLS is now well established. In this article the data are reviewed that support the following postulates combining dopaminergic and iron causes of RLS: (1) All conditions that compromise iron availability will increase the risk of RLS leading to a higher than expected prevalence of RLS in these conditions. (2) Some patients with RLS have marginal CNS iron status that can become insufficient when deprived of normal access to adequate peripheral iron or may be insufficient even with normal access to adequate peripheral iron. (3) The change or reduced CNS iron status produces RLS symptoms largely through its effects on the dopaminergic system and the corollary to 3. (4) Dopaminergic system abnormalities producing RLS symptoms will be included in those produced by brain ID. Study of the iron model of RLS offers hope for developing new treatment approaches and perhaps methods to prevent or cure the disorder. © 2007 Movement Disorder Society

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