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1.  Evidence for distinct pathways of hepcidin regulation by acute and chronic iron loading 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2011;53(4):1333-1341.
In response to iron loading, hepcidin synthesis is homeostatically increased to limit further absorption of dietary iron and its release from stores. Mutations in HFE, transferrin receptor 2 (Tfr2), hemojuvelin (HJV) or bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6) prevent appropriate hepcidin response to iron, allowing increased absorption of dietary iron, and eventually iron overload. To understand the role each of these proteins plays in hepcidin regulation by iron, we analyzed hepcidin mRNA responsiveness to short and long-term iron challenge in iron-depleted Hfe, Tfr2, Hjv and Bmp6 mutant mice. After 1-day (acute) iron challenge, Hfe−/− showed a smaller hepcidin increase than their wild-type strain-matched controls, Bmp6−/− nearly no increase, and Tfr2 and Hjv mutants no increase in hepcidin expression, indicating that all four proteins participate in hepcidin regulation by acute iron changes. After a 21-day (chronic) iron challenge, Hfe and Tfr2 mutants increased hepcidin expression to nearly wild-type levels but a blunted increase of hepcidin was seen in Bmp6−/− and Hjv−/− mice. BMP6, whose expression is also regulated by iron, may mediate hepcidin regulation by iron stores. None of the mutant strains (excepting Bmp6−/− mice) had impaired BMP6 mRNA response to chronic iron loading. Conclusion: TfR2, HJV and BMP6 and, to a lesser extent, HFE, are required for the hepcidin response to acute iron loading, but are partially redundant for hepcidin regulation during chronic iron loading, and are not involved in the regulation of BMP6 expression. Our findings support a model in which acute increases in holotransferrin concentrations transmitted through HFE, TfR2 and HJV augment BMP receptor sensitivity to BMPs. A distinct regulatory mechanism that senses hepatic iron may modulate hepcidin response to chronic iron loading.
PMCID: PMC3074982  PMID: 21480335
Hereditary hemochromatosis; bone morphogenetic protein 6; hemojuvelin; HFE; transferrin receptor 2
2.  Association of Hepcidin mRNA Expression With Hepatocyte Iron Accumulation and Effects of Antiviral Therapy in Chronic Hepatitis C Infection 
Hepatitis Monthly  2014;14(11):e21184.
Iron overload is frequently observed in patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) and is associated with the increased risk of liver fibrosis and carcinogenesis. Hepcidin is a regulator of iron homeostasis and a component of innate immunity. Based on experimental studies, iron overload might be a result of low hepcidin synthesis in CHC.
The aim of this case-control study was to assess hepcidin mRNA expression in liver tissue of patients with CHC in terms of iron metabolism parameters, hemochromatosis (HFE) gene mutations, disease activity, and efficacy of antiviral treatment with pegylated interferon and ribavirin.
Patients and Methods:
A total of 31 patients with CHC, who were qualified for antiviral therapy, were compared with 19 patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB). In both groups, liver function tests and serum iron parameters were assayed and hepcidin mRNA expression was measured in liver specimens using real time PCR with normalization to reference genes mRNA of stable expression.
Patients with CHC had lower hepcidin mRNA expression and more frequently iron deposits in hepatocytes than subjects with CHB did. In CHC group, hepcidin mRNA expression was positively correlated with alanine aminotransferase activity and serum iron concentration. Low expression of hepcidin had no correlation with tissue iron overload in those with CHC. In univariate analysis, HCV viral load and efficacy of antiviral treatment were not significantly associated with hepcidin mRNA expression.
Further studies on the role of hepcidin in pathogenesis of CHC are needed to assess the potency of its use in antiviral treatment.
PMCID: PMC4286710  PMID: 25598789
Hepatitis C; Hepcidin; Iron Overload; Liver; Interferon-alpha
3.  Bone morphogenetic protein signaling is impaired in an Hfe knockout mouse model of hemochromatosis 
Gastroenterology  2009;137(4):1489-1497.
Background and Aims
Mutations in HFE are the most common cause of the iron-overload disorder hereditary hemochromatosis (HH). Levels of the main iron regulatory hormone, hepcidin, are inappropriately low in HH mouse models and patients with HFE mutations, indicating that HFE regulates hepcidin. The bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6)-SMAD signaling pathway is an important endogenous regulator of hepcidin expression. We investigated whether HFE is involved in BMP6-SMAD regulation of hepcidin expression.
The BMP6-SMAD pathway was examined in Hfe knockout (KO) mice and in wild-type (WT) mice as controls. Mice were placed on diets of varying iron content. Hepcidin induction by BMP6 was examined in primary hepatocytes from Hfe KO mice; data were compared with those of WT mice.
Liver levels of Bmp6 mRNA were higher in Hfe KO mice; these were appropriate for the increased hepatic levels of iron in these mice, compared with WT mice. However, levels of hepatic phosphorylated Smad 1/5/8 protein (an intracellular mediator of Bmp6 signaling) and Id1 mRNA (a target gene of Bmp6) were inappropriately low for the body iron burden and Bmp6 mRNA levels in Hfe KO, compared with WT mice. BMP6 induction of hepcidin expression was reduced in Hfe KO hepatocytes compared with WT hepatocytes.
HFE is not involved in regulation of BMP6 by iron, but does regulate the downstream signals of BMP6 that are triggered by iron.
PMCID: PMC2757523  PMID: 19591830
4.  BMP6 treatment compensates for the molecular defect and ameliorates hemochromatosis in Hfe knockout mice 
Gastroenterology  2010;139(5):1721-1729.
Abnormal hepcidin regulation is central to the pathogenesis of HFE hemochromatosis. Hepatic bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6)-SMAD signaling is a main regulatory mechanism controlling hepcidin expression, and this pathway was recently demonstrated to be impaired in Hfe knockout (Hfe−/−) mice. To more definitively determine whether HFE regulates hepcidin expression through an interaction with the BMP6-SMAD signaling pathway, we investigated whether hepatic Hfe overexpression activates the BMP6-SMAD pathway to induce hepcidin expression. We then investigated whether excess exogenous BMP6 administration overcomes the BMP6-SMAD signaling impairment and ameliorates hemochromatosis in Hfe−/− mice.
The BMP6-SMAD pathway and the effects of neutralizing BMP6 antibody were examined in Hfe transgenic mice (Hfe Tg) compared with wildtype (WT) mice. Hfe−/− and WT mice were treated with exogenous BMP6 and analyzed for hepcidin expression and iron parameters.
Hfe Tg mice exhibited hepcidin excess and iron deficiency anemia. Hfe Tg mice also exhibited increased hepatic BMP6-SMAD target gene expression compared with WT mice, while anti-BMP6 antibody administration to Hfe Tg mice improved the hepcidin excess and iron deficiency. In Hfe−/− mice, supraphysiologic doses of exogenous BMP6 improved hepcidin deficiency, reduced serum iron, and redistributed tissue iron to appropriate storage sites.
HFE interacts with the BMP6-SMAD signaling pathway to regulate hepcidin expression, but HFE is not necessary for hepcidin induction by BMP6. Exogenous BMP6 treatment in mice compensates for the molecular defect underlying Hfe hemochromatosis, and BMP6-like agonists may have a role as an alternative therapeutic strategy for this disease.
PMCID: PMC3295242  PMID: 20682319
hemochromatosis; HFE; bone morphogenetic protein
5.  Interaction of the Hereditary Hemochromatosis Protein, HFE, with Transferrin Receptor 2 Is Required for Transferrin-Induced Hepcidin Expression 
Cell metabolism  2009;9(3):217-227.
The mechanisms that allow the body to sense iron levels in order to maintain iron homeostasis are unknown. Patients with the most common form of hereditary iron overload have mutations in the hereditary hemochromatosis protein, HFE. They have lower levels of hepcidin, than unaffected individuals. Hepcidin, a hepatic peptide hormone, negatively regulates iron efflux from the intestines into the blood. We report two hepatic cell lines, WIF-B cells and HepG2 cells transfected with HFE, where hepcidin expression responded to iron-loaded transferrin. The response was abolished when endogenous transferrin receptor 2 (TfR2) was suppressed or in primary hepatocytes lacking either functional TfR2 or HFE. Furthermore, transferrin-treated HepG2 cells transfected with HFE chimeras containing only the α3 and cytoplasmic domains could upregulate hepcidin expression. Since the HFE α3 domain interacts with TfR2, these results supported our finding that TfR2/HFE complex is required for transcriptional regulation of hepcidin by holo-Tf.
PMCID: PMC2673483  PMID: 19254567
HFE; TfR1; TfR2; hepcidin; hereditary hemochromatosis
6.  Gluconeogenic Signals Regulate Iron Homeostasis via Hepcidin in Mice 
Gastroenterology  2014;146(4):1060-1069.e3.
Background & Aims
Hepatic gluconeogenesis provides fuel during starvation, and is abnormally induced in obese individuals or those with diabetes. Common metabolic disorders associated with active gluconeogenesis and insulin resistance (obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) have been associated with alterations in iron homeostasis that disrupt insulin sensitivity and promote disease progression. We investigated whether gluconeogenic signals directly control Hepcidin, an important regulator of iron homeostasis, in starving mice (a model of persistently activated gluconeogenesis and insulin resistance).
We investigated hepatic regulation of Hepcidin expression in C57BL/6Crl, 129S2/SvPas, BALB/c, and Creb3l3–/– null mice. Mice were fed a standard, iron-balanced chow diet or an iron-deficient diet for 9 days before death, or for 7 days before a 24- to 48-hour starvation period; liver and spleen tissues then were collected and analyzed by quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction and immunoblot analyses. Serum levels of iron, hemoglobin, Hepcidin, and glucose also were measured. We analyzed human hepatoma (HepG2) cells and mouse primary hepatocytes to study transcriptional control of Hamp (the gene that encodes Hepcidin) in response to gluconeogenic stimuli using small interfering RNA, luciferase promoter, and chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses.
Starvation led to increased transcription of the gene that encodes phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase 1 (a protein involved in gluconeogenesis) in livers of mice, increased levels of Hepcidin, and degradation of Ferroportin, compared with nonstarved mice. These changes resulted in hypoferremia and iron retention in liver tissue. Livers of starved mice also had increased levels of Ppargc1a mRNA and Creb3l3 mRNA, which encode a transcriptional co-activator involved in energy metabolism and a liver-specific transcription factor, respectively. Glucagon and a cyclic adenosine monophosphate analog increased promoter activity and transcription of Hamp in cultured liver cells; levels of Hamp were reduced after administration of small interfering RNAs against Ppargc1a and Creb3l3. PPARGC1A and CREB3L3 bound the Hamp promoter to activate its transcription in response to a cyclic adenosine monophosphate analog. Creb3l3–/– mice did not up-regulate Hamp or become hypoferremic during starvation.
We identified a link between glucose and iron homeostasis, showing that Hepcidin is a gluconeogenic sensor in mice during starvation. This response is involved in hepatic metabolic adaptation to increased energy demands; it preserves tissue iron for vital activities during food withdrawal, but can cause excessive iron retention and hypoferremia in disorders with persistently activated gluconeogenesis and insulin resistance.
PMCID: PMC3989026  PMID: 24361124
Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor-Gamma Co-activator 1-Alpha (PGC1A); cAMP Response Element-Binding Protein-H (CREBH); Glucagon; Mouse Model; cAMP, cyclic adenosine monophosphate; ChIP, chromatin immunoprecipitation; CREBBL3/CREBH, cyclic adenosine monophosphate response element binding protein 3–like 3; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; FPN1, ferroportin; HAMP, hepcidin; IL, interleukin; NAFLD, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; Pck1, phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase 1; PPARGC1A, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-α; qRT-PCR, quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction; siRNA, small interfering RNA
7.  Altered hepatic BMP signaling pathway in human HFE hemochromatosis 
Blood cells, molecules & diseases  2010;45(4):308-312.
Human hemochromatosis (HC) has been associated with the common C282Y polymorphism of HFE or rare pathogenic mutations of TfR2, HJV, FPN and HAMP. All forms of human HC seem to be caused by low or inadequate levels of hepcidin, the iron hormone. We and others have recently shown that Hfe−/−mice exhibit an impairment in the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling pathway controlling hepcidin. However, all data indicating the central role of BMPs in hepcidin regulation and an impaired BMP/SMAD signaling in HC have been collected in mice. In this study we investigated whether also in humans the expression of BMP signaling targets, SMAD7 and Id1, are associated with liver iron concentration (LIC) and whether such regulation is disrupted in HFE-HC. We correlated the mRNA expression, assessed by RT-PCR, of HAMP, SMAD7 and Id1 with LIC in liver biopsies from patients with normal iron status, HFE-HC or non-HC hepatic iron overload. We found that in human liver, not only HAMP, but also SMAD7 and Id1 mRNA significantly correlate with the extent of hepatic iron burden. However, this correlation is lost in patients with HFE-HC, but maintained in subjects with non-hemochromatotic iron overload. These data indicate that in human HFE-HC a disrupted BMP/SMAD signaling in the liver is key in the pathogenesis of the disease.
PMCID: PMC3295241  PMID: 20863724
iron overload; bone morphogenetic proteins; hepcidin; SMAD proteins
8.  Apoptosis induced by Fas signaling does not alter hepatic hepcidin expression 
AIM: To determine the regulation of human hepcidin (HAMP) and mouse hepcidin (hepcidin-1 and hepcidin-2) gene expression in the liver by apoptosis using in vivo and in vitro experimental models.
METHODS: For the induction of the extrinsic apoptotic pathway, HepG2 cells were treated with various concentrations of CH11, an activating antibody for human Fas receptor, for 12 h. Male C57BL/6NCR and C57BL/6J strains of mice were injected intraperitoneally with sublethal doses of an activating antibody for mouse Fas receptor, Jo2. The mice were anesthetized and sacrificed 1 or 6 h after the injection. The level of apoptosis was quantified by caspase-3 activity assay. Liver injury was assessed by measuring the levels of ALT/AST enzymes in the serum. The acute phase reaction in the liver was examined by determining the expression levels of IL-6 and SAA3 genes by SYBR green quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR). The phosphorylation of transcription factors, Stat3, Smad4 and NF-κB was determined by western blotting. Hepcidin gene expression was determined by Taqman qPCR. The binding of transcription factors to hepcidin-1 promoter was studied using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays.
RESULTS: The treatment of HepG2 cells with CH11 induced apoptosis, as shown by the significant activation of caspase-3 (P < 0.001), but did not cause any significant changes in HAMP expression. Short-term (1 h) Jo2 treatment (0.2 μg/g b.w.) neither induced apoptosis and acute phase reaction nor altered mRNA expression of mouse hepcidin-1 in the livers of C57BL/6NCR mice. In contrast, 6 h after Jo2 injection, the livers of C57BL/6NCR mice exhibited a significant level of apoptosis (P < 0.001) and an increase in SAA3 (P < 0.023) and IL-6 (P < 0.005) expression in the liver. However, mRNA expression of hepcidin-1 in the liver was not significantly altered. Despite the Jo2-induced phosphorylation of Stat3, no occupancy of hepcidin-1 promoter by Stat3 was observed, as shown by ChIP assays. Compared to C57BL/6NCR mice, Jo2 treatment (0.2 μg/g b.w.) of C57BL/6J strain mice for 6 h induced a more prominent activation of apoptosis, liver injury and acute phase reaction. Similar to C57BL/6NCR mice, the level of liver hepcidin-1 mRNA expression in the livers of C57BL/6J mice injected with a sublethal dose of Jo2 (0.2 μg/g b.w.) remained unchanged. The injection of C57BL/6J mice with a higher dose of Jo2 (0.32 μg/g b.w.) did not also alter hepatic hepcidin expression.
CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that human or mouse hepcidin gene expression is not regulated by apoptosis induced via Fas receptor activation in the liver.
PMCID: PMC4160531  PMID: 25225605
Iron metabolism; Jo2; CH11; Extrinsic apoptosis; Stat3
9.  Tumour necrosis factor alpha downregulates human hemojuvelin expression via a novel response element within its promoter 
Iron homeostasis is chiefly regulated by hepcidin whose expression is tightly controlled by inflammation, iron stores, and hypoxia. Hemojuvelin (HJV) is a bone morphogenetic protein co-receptor that has been identified as a main upstream regulator of hepcidin expression; HJV mutations are associated with a severe form of iron overload (Juvenile haemochromatosis). Currently however, there is no information on how HJV is regulated by inflammation.
To study the regulation of Hjv expression by inflammation and whether Hfe has a role in that regulation, control and LPS-injected wild type and Hfe KO mice were used. Moreover, human hepatoma cells (HuH7) were used to study the effect of IL-6 and TNF-α on HJV mRNA expression.
Here we show that LPS repressed hepatic Hjv and BMPs, while it induced hepcidin 1 expression in wild-type and Hfe KO mice with no effect on hepatic pSMAD 1, 5, 8 protein levels. In addition, exogenous TNF-α (20 ng/mL) decreased HJV mRNA and protein expression to 40% of control with no effect on hepcidin mRNA expression in 24 hours. On the other hand, IL-6 induced hepcidin mRNA and protein expression with no effect on HJV mRNA expression levels. Moreover, using the HJV promoter-luciferase reporter fusion construct (HJVP1.2-luc), we showed that the basal luciferase activity of HJVP1.2-luc was inhibited by 33% following TNF-α treatment of HuH7 transfected cells suggesting that the TNF-α down-regulation is exerted at the transcriptional level. Additionally, mutation of a canonical TNF- alpha responsive element (TNFRE) within HJVP1.2-luc abolished TNF-α response suggesting that this TNFRE is functional.
From these results, we conclude that TNF-α suppresses HJV transcription possibly via a novel TNFRE within the HJV promoter. In addition, the results suggest that the proposed link between inflammation and BMP-SMAD signalling is independent of HJV and BMP ligands.
PMCID: PMC3500654  PMID: 22998440
Inflammation; Hemojuvelin; TNF-α
10.  Low Serum Hepcidin in Patients with Autoimmune Liver Diseases 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0135486.
Hepcidin, a liver hormone, is important for both innate immunity and iron metabolism regulation. As dysfunction of the hepcidin pathway may contribute to liver pathology, we analysed liver hepcidin mRNA and serum hepcidin in patients with chronic liver diseases. Hepcidin mRNA levels were determined in liver biopsies obtained from 126 patients with HCV (n = 21), HBV (n = 23), autoimmune cholestatic disease (primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis; PBC/PSC; n = 34), autoimmune hepatitis (AIH; n = 16) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD; n = 32). Sera sampled on the biopsy day from the same patients were investigated for serum hepcidin levels. Hepatic hepcidin mRNA levels correlated positively with ferritin and negatively with serum γ-GT levels. However, no correlation was found between serum hepcidin and either ferritin or liver hepcidin mRNA. Both serum hepcidin and the serum hepcidin/ferritin ratio were significantly lower in AIH and PBC/PSC patients’ sera compared to HBV, HCV or NAFLD (P<0.001 for each comparison) and correlated negatively with serum ALP levels. PBC/PSC and AIH patients maintained low serum hepcidin during the course of their two-year long treatment. In summary, parallel determination of liver hepcidin mRNA and serum hepcidin in patients with chronic liver diseases shows that circulating hepcidin and its respective ratio to ferritin are significantly diminished in patients with autoimmune liver diseases. These novel findings, once confirmed by follow-up studies involving bigger size and better-matched disease subgroups, should be taken into consideration during diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune liver diseases.
PMCID: PMC4535884  PMID: 26270641
11.  Contribution of Hfe expression in macrophages to the regulation of hepatic hepcidin levels and iron loading 
Blood  2005;106(6):2189-2195.
Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH), an iron overload disease associated with mutations in the HFE gene, is characterized by increased intestinal iron absorption and consequent deposition of excess iron, primarily in the liver. Patients with HH and Hfe-deficient (Hfe−/−) mice manifest inappropriate expression of the iron absorption regulator hepcidin, a peptide hormone produced by the liver in response to iron loading. In this study, we investigated the contribution of Hfe expression in macrophages to the regulation of liver hepcidin levels and iron loading. We used bone marrow transplantation to generate wild-type (wt) and Hfe−/− mice chimeric for macrophage Hfe gene expression. Reconstitution of Hfe-deficient mice with wt bone marrow resulted in augmented capacity of the spleen to store iron and in significantly decreased liver iron loading, accompanied by a significant increase of hepatic hepcidin mRNA levels. Conversely, wt mice reconstituted with Hfe-deficient bone marrow had a diminished capacity to store iron in the spleen but no significant alterations of liver iron stores or hepcidin mRNA levels. Our results suggest that macrophage Hfe participates in the regulation of splenic and liver iron concentrations and liver hepcidin expression.
PMCID: PMC2891009  PMID: 15914561 CAMSID: cams1059
12.  Estrogen Regulates Hepcidin Expression via GPR30-BMP6-Dependent Signaling in Hepatocytes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40465.
Hepcidin, a liver-derived iron regulatory protein, plays a crucial role in iron metabolism. It is known that gender differences exist with respect to iron storage in the body; however, the effects of sex steroid hormones on iron metabolism are not completely understood. We focused on the effects of the female sex hormone estrogen on hepcidin expression. First, ovariectomized (OVX) and sham-operated mice were employed to investigate the effects of estrogen on hepcidin expression in an in vivo study. Hepcidin expression was decreased in the livers of OVX mice compared to the sham-operated mice. In OVX mice, bone morphologic protein-6 (BMP6), a regulator of hepcidin, was also found to be downregulated in the liver, whereas ferroportin (FPN), an iron export protein, was upregulated in the duodenum. Both serum and liver iron concentrations were elevated in OVX mice relative to their concentrations in sham-operated mice. In in vitro studies, 17β-estradiol (E2) increased the mRNA expression of hepcidin in HepG2 cells in a concentration-dependent manner. E2-induced hepatic hepcidin upregulation was not inhibited by ICI 182720, an inhibitor of the estrogen receptor; instead, hepcidin expression was increased by ICI 182720. E2 and ICI 182720 exhibit agonist actions with G-protein coupled receptor 30 (GPR30), the 7-transmembrane estrogen receptor. G1, a GPR30 agonist, upregulated hepcidin expression, and GPR30 siRNA treatment abolished E2-induced hepcidin expression. BMP6 expression induced by E2 was abolished by GPR30 silencing. Finally, both E2 and G1 supplementation restored reduced hepatic hepcidin and BMP6 expression and reversed the augmentation of duodenal FPN expression in the OVX mice. In contrast, serum hepcidin was elevated in OVX mice, which was reversed in these mice with E2 and G1. Thus, estrogen is involved in hepcidin expression via a GPR30-BMP6-dependent mechanism, providing new insight into the role of estrogen in iron metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3394730  PMID: 22792339
13.  Effects of iron loading on muscle: genome-wide mRNA expression profiling in the mouse 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:379.
Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) encompasses genetic disorders of iron overload characterized by deficient expression or function of the iron-regulatory hormone hepcidin. Mutations in 5 genes have been linked to this disease: HFE, TFR2 (encoding transferrin receptor 2), HAMP (encoding hepcidin), SLC40A1 (encoding ferroportin) and HJV (encoding hemojuvelin). Hepcidin inhibits iron export from cells into plasma. Hemojuvelin, an upstream regulator of hepcidin expression, is expressed in mice mainly in the heart and skeletal muscle. It has been suggested that soluble hemojuvelin shed by the muscle might reach the liver to influence hepcidin expression. Heart muscle is one of the target tissues affected by iron overload, with resultant cardiomyopathy in some HH patients. Therefore, we investigated the effect of iron overload on gene expression in skeletal muscle and heart using Illumina™ arrays containing over 47,000 probes. The most apparent changes in gene expression were confirmed using real-time RT-PCR.
Genes with up-regulated expression after iron overload in both skeletal and heart muscle included angiopoietin-like 4, pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 4 and calgranulin A and B. The expression of transferrin receptor, heat shock protein 1B and DnaJ homolog B1 were down-regulated by iron in both muscle types. Two potential hepcidin regulatory genes, hemojuvelin and neogenin, showed no clear change in expression after iron overload.
Microarray analysis revealed iron-induced changes in the expression of several genes involved in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism, transcription and cellular stress responses. These may represent novel connections between iron overload and pathological manifestations of HH such as cardiomyopathy and diabetes.
PMCID: PMC2151772  PMID: 17949489
14.  Iron regulation of hepcidin despite attenuated Smad1,5,8 signaling in mice without transferrin receptor 2 or Hfe 
Gastroenterology  2011;141(5):1907-1914.
Background & Aims
HFE and transferrin receptor 2 (TFR2) are each necessary for the normal relationship between body iron status and liver hepcidin expression. In murine Hfe and Tfr2 knockout models of hereditary hemochromatosis (HH), signal transduction to hepcidin via the bone morphogenetic protein 6 (Bmp6)/Smad1,5,8 pathway is attenuated. We examined the effect of dietary iron on regulation of hepcidin expression via the Bmp6/Smad1,5,8 pathway using mice with targeted disruption of Tfr2, Hfe, or both genes.
Hepatic iron concentrations and mRNA expression of Bmp6 and hepcidin were compared with wild-type mice in each of the HH models on standard or iron-loading diets. Liver phospho-Smad (P-Smad)1,5,8 and Id1 mRNA levels were measured as markers of Bmp/Smad signaling.
While Bmp6 expression was increased, liver hepcidin and Id1 expression were decreased in each of the HH models compared with wild-type mice. Each of the HH models also demonstrated attenuated P-Smad1,5,8 levels relative to liver iron status. Mice with combined Hfe/Tfr2 disruption were most affected. Dietary iron loading increased hepcidin and Id1 expression in each of the HH models. Compared with wild-type mice, HH mice demonstrated attenuated (Hfe knockout) or no increases in P-Smad1,5,8 levels in response to dietary iron loading.
These observations demonstrate that Tfr2 and Hfe are each required for normal signaling of iron status to hepcidin via Bmp6/Smad1,5,8 pathway. Mice with combined loss of Hfe and Tfr2 up-regulate hepcidin in response to dietary iron loading without increases in liver BMP6 mRNA or steady-state P-Smad1,5,8 levels.
PMCID: PMC3634343  PMID: 21745449
bone morphogenetic protein 6; Id1
15.  Mass Spectrometry Analysis of Hepcidin Peptides in Experimental Mouse Models 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e16762.
The mouse is a valuable model for unravelling the role of hepcidin in iron homeostasis, however, such studies still report hepcidin mRNA levels as a surrogate marker for bioactive hepcidin in its pivotal function to block ferroportin-mediated iron transport. Here, we aimed to assess bioactive mouse Hepcidin-1 (Hep-1) and its paralogue Hepcidin-2 (Hep-2) at the peptide level. To this purpose, fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) and tandem-MS was used for hepcidin identification, after which a time-of-flight (TOF) MS-based methodology was exploited to routinely determine Hep-1 and -2 levels in mouse serum and urine. This method was biologically validated by hepcidin assessment in: i) 3 mouse strains (C57Bl/6; DBA/2 and BABL/c) upon stimulation with intravenous iron and LPS, ii) homozygous Hfe knock out, homozygous transferrin receptor 2 (Y245X) mutated mice and double affected mice, and iii) mice treated with a sublethal hepatotoxic dose of paracetamol. The results showed that detection of Hep-1 was restricted to serum, whereas Hep-2 and its presumed isoforms were predominantly present in urine. Elevations in serum Hep-1 and urine Hep-2 upon intravenous iron or LPS were only moderate and varied considerably between mouse strains. Serum Hep-1 was decreased in all three hemochromatosis models, being lowest in the double affected mice. Serum Hep-1 levels correlated with liver hepcidin-1 gene expression, while acute liver damage by paracetamol depleted Hep-1 from serum. Furthermore, serum Hep-1 appeared to be an excellent indicator of splenic iron accumulation. In conclusion, Hep-1 and Hep-2 peptide responses in experimental mouse agree with the known biology of hepcidin mRNA regulators, and their measurement can now be implemented in experimental mouse models to provide novel insights in post-transcriptional regulation, hepcidin function, and kinetics.
PMCID: PMC3050808  PMID: 21408141
16.  Erythropoietin mediates hepcidin expression in hepatocytes through EPOR signaling and regulation of C/EBPα 
Blood  2008;111(12):5727-5733.
Hepcidin is the principal iron regulatory hormone, controlling the systemic absorption and remobilization of iron from intracellular stores. Recent in vivo studies have shown that hepcidin is down-regulated by erythropoiesis, anemia, and hypoxia, which meets the need of iron input for erythrocyte production. Erythropoietin (EPO) is the primary signal that triggers erythropoiesis in anemic and hypoxic conditions. Therefore, a direct involvement of EPO in hepcidin regulation can be hypothesized. We report here the regulation of hepcidin expression by EPO, in a dose-dependent manner, in freshly isolated mouse hepatocytes and in the HepG2 human hepatocyte cell model. The effect is mediated through EPOR signaling, since hepcidin mRNA levels are restored by pretreatment with an EPOR-blocking antibody. The transcription factor C/EBPα showed a pattern of expression similar to hepcidin, at the mRNA and protein levels, following EPO and anti-EPOR treatments. Chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments showed a significant decrease of C/EBPα binding to the hepcidin promoter after EPO supplementation, suggesting the involvement of this transcription factor in the transcriptional response of hepcidin to EPO.
PMCID: PMC2597200  PMID: 18326822
17.  Serum-induced up-regulation of hepcidin expression involves the bone morphogenetic protein signaling pathway 
Biochemical and biophysical research communications  2013;441(2):10.1016/j.bbrc.2013.10.065.
Hepcidin is a peptide hormone that is secreted by the liver and that functions as the central regulator of systemic iron metabolism in mammals. Its expression is regulated at the transcriptional level by changes in iron status and iron requirements, and by inflammatory cues. There is considerable interest in understanding the mechanisms that influence hepcidin expression because dysregulation of hepcidin production is associated with a number of disease states and can lead to iron overload or iron-restricted anemia. In order to shed light on the factors that alter hepcidin expression, we carried out experiments with HepG2 and HuH7, human hepatoma cell lines that are widely used for this purpose. We found that the addition of heat-inactivated fetal calf serum to these cells resulted in a significant dose- and time-dependent up-regulation of hepcidin expression. Serum also activated signaling events known to be downstream of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP), a group of molecules that have been implicated previously in hepcidin regulation. Inhibition of these signals with dorsomorphin significantly suppressed serum-induced hepcidin up-regulation. Our results indicate that a BMP or BMP-like molecule present in serum may play an important role in regulating hepcidin expression.
PMCID: PMC3850278  PMID: 24157792
Iron metabolism; hepcidin; hepatocyte; serum
18.  Distinct requirements for Hfe in basal and induced hepcidin levels in iron overload and inflammation 
Hepcidin is a negative regulator of iron absorption produced mainly by the liver in response to changes in iron stores and inflammation, and its levels have been shown to regulate the intestinal basolateral iron transporter ferroportin1 (Fp1). Hereditary hemochromatosis patients and Hfe-deficient mice show inappropriate expression of hepcidin but, in apparent contradiction, still retain the ability to regulate iron absorption in response to alterations of iron metabolism. To further understand the molecular relationships among Hfe, hepcidin, and Fp1, we investigated hepcidin and Fp1 regulation in Hfe-deficient mice (Hfe−/− and β2m−/−) in response to iron deprivation, iron loading, and acute inflammation. We found that whereas basal hepcidin levels were manifestly dependent on the presence of Hfe and on the mouse background, all Hfe-deficient mice were still able to regulate hepcidin in situations of altered iron homeostasis. In the liver, Fp1 was modulated in opposite directions by iron and LPS, and its regulation in Hfe-deficient mice was similar to that observed in wild-type mice. In addition, we found that iron-deprived mice were able to mount a robust response after LPS challenge and that Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4)-deficient mice fail to regulate hepcidin expression in response to LPS. In conclusion, these results suggest that although Hfe is necessary for the establishment of hepcidin basal levels, it is dispensable for hepcidin regulation through both the iron-sensing and inflammatory pathways, and hepatic Fp1 regulation is largely independent of hepcidin and Hfe. The inflammatory pathway overrides the iron-sensing pathway and is TLR-4 dependent.
PMCID: PMC2891007  PMID: 16565419 CAMSID: cams1056
ferroportin 1; Toll-like receptor 4; β2m; hereditary hemochromatosis; lipopolysaccharide
19.  A Multi-Scale Model of Hepcidin Promoter Regulation Reveals Factors Controlling Systemic Iron Homeostasis 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(1):e1003421.
Systemic iron homeostasis involves a negative feedback circuit in which the expression level of the peptide hormone hepcidin depends on and controls the iron blood levels. Hepcidin expression is regulated by the BMP6/SMAD and IL6/STAT signaling cascades. Deregulation of either pathway causes iron-related diseases such as hemochromatosis or anemia of inflammation. We quantitatively analyzed how BMP6 and IL6 control hepcidin expression. Transcription factor (TF) phosphorylation and reporter gene expression were measured under co-stimulation conditions, and the promoter was perturbed by mutagenesis. Using mathematical modeling, we systematically analyzed potential mechanisms of cooperative and competitive promoter regulation by the transcription factors, and experimentally validated the model predictions. Our results reveal that hepcidin cross-regulation primarily occurs by combinatorial transcription factor binding to the promoter, whereas signaling crosstalk is insignificant. We find that the presence of two BMP-responsive elements enhances the steepness of the promoter response towards the iron-sensing BMP signaling axis, which promotes iron homeostasis in vivo. IL6 co-stimulation reduces the promoter sensitivity towards the BMP signal, because the SMAD and STAT transcription factors compete for recruiting RNA polymerase to the transcription start site. This may explain why inflammatory signals disturb iron homeostasis in anemia of inflammation. Taken together, our results reveal why the iron homeostasis circuit is sensitive to perturbations implicated in disease.
Author Summary
The nutritional iron uptake is tightly regulated because the body has limited capacity of iron excretion. Mammals maintain iron homeostasis by a negative feedback loop, in which the peptide hepcidin senses the iron blood level and controls iron resorption. Molecular perturbations in the homeostasis loop lead to iron-related diseases such as hemochromatosis or anemia of inflammation. Quantitative studies are required to understand the dynamics of the iron homeostasis circuitry in health and disease. We investigated how the biological activity of hepcidin is regulated by combining experiments with mathematical modeling. We present a multi-scale model that describes the signaling network and the gene promoter controlling hepcidin expression. Possible scenarios of hepcidin regulation were systematically tested against experimental data, and interpreted using a network model of iron metabolism in vivo. The analysis showed that the presence of multiple redundant regulatory elements in the hepcidin gene promoter facilitates homeostasis, because changes in iron blood levels are sensed with high sensitivity. We further suggest that inflammatory signals establish molecular competition at the hepcidin promoter, thereby reducing its iron sensitivity and leading to a loss of homeostasis in anemia of inflammation. We conclude that quantitative insights into hepcidin expression regulation explain features of systemic iron homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3879105  PMID: 24391488
20.  Phytoestrogens modulate hepcidin expression by Nrf2: Implications for dietary control of iron absorption 
Free Radical Biology & Medicine  2015;89:1192-1202.
Hepcidin is a liver-derived antimicrobial peptide that regulates iron absorption and is also an integral part of the acute phase response. In a previous report, we found evidence that this peptide could also be induced by toxic heavy metals and xenobiotics, thus broadening its teleological role as a defensin. However it remained unclear how its sensing of disparate biotic and abiotic stressors might be integrated at the transcriptional level. We hypothesized that its function in cytoprotection may be regulated by NFE2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), the master transcriptional controller of cellular stress defenses. In this report, we show that hepcidin regulation is inextricably linked to the acute stress response through Nrf2 signaling. Nrf2 regulates hepcidin expression from a prototypical antioxidant response element in its promoter, and by synergizing with other basic leucine-zipper transcription factors. We also show that polyphenolic small molecules or phytoestrogens commonly found in fruits and vegetables including the red wine constituent resveratrol can induce hepcidin expression in vitro and post-prandially, with concomitant reductions in circulating iron levels and transferrin saturation by one such polyphenol quercetin. Furthermore, these molecules derepress hepcidin promoter activity when its transcription by Nrf2 is repressed by Keap1. Taken together, the data show that hepcidin is a prototypical antioxidant response or cytoprotective gene within the Nrf2 transcriptional circuitry. The ability of phytoestrogens to modulate hepcidin expression in vivo suggests a novel mechanism by which diet may impact iron homeostasis.
Graphical abstract
•Nrf2 regulates HAMP transcription.•Phytoestrogens differentially induce HAMP transcription by Nrf2.•Post-prandial hepcidin induction reduces serum iron and transferrin saturation.•Nrf2 knockout results in iron-overload in mouse embryonic fibroblasts.
PMCID: PMC4698393  PMID: 26546695
ARE, antioxidant response element; Bach1, BTB and CNC homology 1 basic leucine zipper transcription factor 1; BRG1, Brahma-related gene-1; BRM, Brahma; ChIP, chromatin immunoprecipitation; Ct, cycle threshold; c-Jun, Jun proto-oncogene; c-Fos, Finkel-Biskis-Reilly osteogenic sarcoma; DMSO, dimethyl sulfoxide; EMSA, electrophoretic mobility shifts assay; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; FeNTA, Fe(III) nitrilotriacetic acid; IL-6, interleukin 6; LPS, lipopolysaccharide; MT-1, metallothionein 1; GAPDH, glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase; GST, glutathione S-transferase; Hamp, hepcidin antimicrobial peptide; HepcARE, Hepcidin antioxidant response element; HO-1, heme oxygenase 1; IgG, immunoglobulin G; Keap1, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1; Maf, musculo-aponeurotic fibrosarcoma; QR1, quinone reductase 1; β-TrCP, β-transducin repeat-containing protein; SCF, Skp, Cullin, F-box; Nrf2, NF-E2-related factor 2; PCR, polymerase chain reaction; qPCR, quantitative polymerase chain reaction; tBHQ, tert-butyl hydroquinone; RT-PCR, Real time-PCR; RIPA, Radio-immunoprecipitation assay; Oxidative stress; Iron overload; Hepcidin; Antioxidant response element; Nrf2; Phytoestrogen; Polyphenol; Redox regulation
21.  Function of the hemochromatosis protein HFE: Lessons from animal models 
Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is caused by chronic hyperabsorption of dietary iron. Progressive accumulation of excess iron within tissue parenchymal cells may lead to severe organ damage. The most prevalent type of HH is linked to mutations in the HFE gene, encoding an atypical major histocompatibility complex classImolecule. Shortly after its discovery in 1996, the hemochromatosis protein HFE was shown to physically interact with transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1) and impair the uptake of transferrin-bound iron in cells. However, these findings provided no clue why HFE mutations associate with systemic iron overload. It was later established that all forms of HH result from misregulation of hepcidin expression. This liver-derived circulating peptide hormone controls iron efflux from duodenal enterocytes and reticuloendothelial macrophages by promoting the degradation of the iron exporter ferroportin. Recent studies with animal models of HH uncover a crucial role of HFE as a hepatocyte iron sensor and upstream regulator of hepcidin. Thus, hepatocyte HFE is indispensable for signaling to hepcidin, presumably as a constituent of a larger iron-sensing complex. A working model postulates that the signaling activity of HFE is silenced when the protein is bound to TfR1. An increase in the iron saturation of plasma transferrin leads to displacement of TfR1 from HFE and assembly of the putative iron-sensing complex. In this way, iron uptake by the hepatocyte is translated into upregulation of hepcidin, reinforcing the concept that the liver is the major regulatory site for systemic iron homeostasis, and not merely an iron storage depot.
PMCID: PMC2773850  PMID: 19058322
Hepcidin; Iron metabolism; Transferrin; Hemojuvelin; Bone morphogenetic proteins
22.  BMP-6 is a key endogenous regulator of hepcidin expression and iron metabolism 
Nature genetics  2009;41(4):482-487.
Juvenile hemochromatosis is an iron overload disorder caused by mutations in the genes encoding the major iron regulatory hormone hepcidin (HAMP)1 and hemojuvelin (HFE2)2. We have previously shown that hemojuvelin is a bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) co-receptor and that BMP signals regulate hepcidin expression and iron metabolism3,4. However, the endogenous BMP regulator(s) of hepcidin in vivo is unknown. Here, we show that in vitro, compared with soluble hemojuvelin (HJV.Fc), the homologous DRAGON.Fc more potently inhibits hepcidin induction by BMP-2 or BMP-4, but less potently inhibits BMP-6. In vivo, HJV.Fc or a neutralizing BMP-6 antibody inhibits hepcidin expression and increases serum iron, while DRAGON.Fc has no effect. Notably, Bmp6 null mice have a phenotype resembling hereditary hemochromatosis with reduced hepcidin expression and tissue iron overload. Finally, we demonstrate a physical interaction between HJV.Fc and BMP-6, and we show that BMP-6 increases hepcidin expression and reduces serum iron in mice. These data support a key role for BMP-6 as a ligand for HJV and an endogenous regulator of hepcidin expression and iron metabolism in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2810136  PMID: 19252486
23.  Hepcidin and Hfe in iron overload in β-thalassemia 
Hepcidin (HAMP) negatively regulates iron absorption, degrading the iron exporter ferroportin at the level of enterocytes and macrophages. We showed that mice with β-thalassemia intermedia (th3/+) have increased anemia and iron overload. However, their hepcidin expression is relatively low compared to their iron burden. We also showed that the iron metabolism gene Hfe is down-regulated in concert with hepcidin in th3/+ mice. These observations suggest that low hepcidin levels are responsible for abnormal iron absorption in thalassemic mice and that down-regulation of Hfe might be involved in the pathway that controls hepcidin synthesis in β-thalassemia. Therefore, these studies suggest that increasing hepcidin and/or Hfe expression could be a strategy to reduces iron overload in these animals. The goal of this paper is to review recent findings that correlate hepcidin, Hfe, and iron metabolism in β-thalassemia and to discuss potential novel therapeutic approaches based on these recent discoveries.
PMCID: PMC3652388  PMID: 20712796
β-thalassemia; iron overload; hepcidin; Hfe; lentiviral vectors
24.  High Fat Diet Subverts Hepatocellular Iron Uptake Determining Dysmetabolic Iron Overload 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(2):e0116855.
Increased serum ferritin associated with mild hepatic iron accumulation, despite preserved upregulation of the iron hormone hepcidin, is frequently observed in patients with dysmetabolic overload syndrome (DIOS). Genetic factors and Western diet represent predisposing conditions, but the mechanisms favoring iron accumulation in DIOS are still unclear. Aims of this study were to assess the effect a high-fat diet (HFD) on hepatic iron metabolism in an experimental model in rats, to further characterize the effect of free fatty acids on iron metabolism in HepG2 hepatocytes in vitro, and to assess the translational relevance in patients with fatty liver with and without iron accumulation. Despite decreased uptake of dietary iron, rats fed HFD accumulated more hepatic iron than those fed regular diet, which was associated with steatosis development. Hepatic iron accumulation was paralleled by induction of ferritin, in the presence of preserved upregulation of hepcidin, recapitulating the features of DIOS. HFD was associated with increased expression of the major iron uptake protein Transferrin receptor-1 (TfR-1), consistently with upregulation of the intracellular iron sensor Iron regulated protein-1 (IRP1). Supplementation with fatty acids induced TfR-1 and IRP1 in HepG2 hepatocytes, favoring intracellular iron accumulation following exposure to iron salts. IRP1 silencing completely abrogated TfR-1 induction and the facilitation of intracellular iron accumulation induced by fatty acids. Hepatic TfR-1 mRNA levels were upregulated in patients with fatty liver and DIOS, whereas they were not associated with liver fat nor with inflammation. In conclusion, increased exposure to fatty acids subverts hepatic iron metabolism, favoring the induction of an iron uptake program despite hepatocellular iron accumulation.
PMCID: PMC4315491  PMID: 25647178
25.  Hepcidin Expression in the Liver: Relatively Low Level in Patients with Chronic Hepatitis C 
Molecular Medicine  2007;13(1-2):97-104.
Patients with chronic hepatitis C frequently have serum and hepatic iron overload, but the mechanism is unknown. Recently identified hepcidin, exclusively synthesized in the liver, is thought to be a key regulator for iron homeostasis and is induced by infection and inflammation. This study was conducted to determine the hepatic hepcidin expression levels in patients with various liver diseases. We investigated hepcidin mRNA levels of liver samples by real-time detection-polymerase chain reaction; 56 were hepatitis C virus (HCV) positive, 34 were hepatitis B virus (HBV) positive, and 42 were negative for HCV and HBV (3 cases of auto-immune hepatitis, 7 alcoholic liver disease, 13 primary biliary cirrhosis, 9 nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and 10 normal liver). We analyzed the relation of hepcidin to clinical, hematological, histological, and etiological findings. Hepcidin expression levels were strongly correlated with serum ferritin (P < 0.0001) and the degree of iron deposit in liver tissues (P < 0.0001). Hepcidin was also correlated with hematological parameters (vs. hemoglobin, P = 0.0073; vs. serum iron, P = 0.0012; vs. transferrin saturation, P < 0.0001) and transaminase levels (P = 0.0013). The hepcidin-to-ferritin ratio was significantly lower in HCV+ patients than in HBV+ patients (P = 0.0129) or control subjects (P = 0.0080). In conclusion, hepcidin expression levels in chronic liver diseases were strongly correlated with either the serum ferritin concentration or degree of iron deposits in the liver. When adjusted by either serum ferritin values or hepatic iron scores, hepcidin indices were significantly lower in HCV+ patients than in HBV+ patients, suggesting that hepcidin may play a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of iron overload in patients with chronic hepatitis C.
PMCID: PMC1869620  PMID: 17515961

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