Both an excess of toxic lead (Pb) and an essential iron disorder have been implicated in many diseases and public health problems. Iron metabolism genes, such as the hemochromatosis (HFE) gene, have been reported to be modifiers for lead absorption and storage. However, the HFE gene studies among the Asian population with occupationally high lead exposure are lacking.
To explore the modifying effects of the HFE genotype (wild-type, H63D variant and C282Y variant) on the Pb load and iron metabolism among Asian Pb-workers with high occupational exposure.
Seven hundred and seventy-one employees from a lead smelter manufacturing company were tested to determine their Pb intoxication parameters, iron metabolic indexes and identify the HFE genotype. Descriptive and multivariate analyses were conducted.
Forty-five H63D variant carriers and no C282Y variant carrier were found among the 771 subjects. Compared with subjects with the wild-type genotype, H63D variant carriers had higher blood lead levels, even after controlling for factors such as age, sex, marriage, education, smoking and lead exposure levels. Multivariate analyses also showed that the H63D genotype modifies the associations between the blood lead levels and the body iron burden/transferrin.
No C282Y variant was found in this Asian population. The H63D genotype modified the association between the lead and iron metabolism such that increased blood lead is associated with a higher body iron content or a lower transferrin in the H63D variant. It is indicated that H63D variant carriers may be a potentially highly vulnerable sub-population if they are exposed to high lead levels occupationally.