Recovery from blood loss requires a greatly enhanced supply of iron to support expanded erythropoiesis. After hemorrhage, suppression of the iron-regulatory hormone hepcidin allows increased iron absorption and mobilization from stores. We identified a new hormone, erythroferrone (ERFE), which mediates hepcidin suppression during stress erythropoiesis. ERFE is produced by erythroblasts in response to erythropoietin. ERFE-deficient mice fail to suppress hepcidin rapidly after hemorrhage and exhibit a delay in recovery from blood loss. ERFE expression is greatly increased in murine HbbTh3/+ thalassemia intermedia where it contributes to the suppression of hepcidin and systemic iron overload characteristic of this disease.
Hepcidin, the iron-regulatory hormone and acute phase reactant, is proposed to contribute to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis by promoting iron accumulation in plaque macrophages, leading to increased oxidative stress and inflammation in the plaque (the “iron hypothesis”). Hepcidin and iron may thus represent modifiable risk factors in atherosclerosis. We measured hepcidin expression in Apoe−/− mice with varying diets and ages. To assess the role of macrophage iron in atherosclerosis, we generated Apoe−/− mice with macrophage-specific iron accumulation by introducing the ferroportin ffe mutation. Macrophage iron loading was also enhanced by intravenous iron injection. Contrary to the iron hypothesis, we found that hepatic hepcidin expression was not increased at any stage of the atherosclerosis progression in Apoe−/− or Apoe/ffe mice and the atherosclerotic plaque size was not increased in mice with elevated macrophage iron. Our results strongly argue against any significant role of macrophage iron in atherosclerosis progression in mice.
Hepcidin, the iron-regulatory hormone, is increased during infection or inflammation, causing hypoferremia. This response is thought to be a host defense mechanism that restricts iron availability to invading pathogens. It is not known if hepcidin is differentially induced by bacterial versus viral infections, whether the stimulation of pattern recognition receptors directly regulates hepcidin transcription, or which of the proposed signaling pathways are essential for hepcidin increase during infection. We analyzed hepcidin induction and its dependence on interleukin-6 (IL-6) in response to common bacterial or viral infections in mice or in response to a panel of pathogen-derived molecules (PAMPs) in mice and human primary hepatocytes. In wild-type (WT) mice, hepcidin mRNA was induced several hundred-fold both by a bacterial (Streptococcus pneumoniae) and a viral infection (influenza virus PR8) within 2 to 5 days. Treatment of mice and human primary hepatocytes with most Toll-like receptor ligands increased hepcidin mRNA within 6 h. Hepcidin induction by microbial stimuli was IL-6 dependent. IL-6 knockout mice failed to increase hepcidin in response to S. pneumoniae or influenza infection and had greatly diminished hepcidin response to PAMPs. In vitro, hepcidin induction by PAMPs in primary human hepatocytes was abolished by the addition of neutralizing IL-6 antibodies. Our results support the key role of IL-6 in hepcidin regulation in response to a variety of infectious and inflammatory stimuli.
Hepcidin is the master regulator of systemic iron bioavailability in humans. This review examines primary research articles that assessed hepcidin during pregnancy and postpartum and report its relationship to maternal and infant iron status and birth outcomes; areas for future research are also discussed. A systematic search of the databases Medline and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health returned 16 primary research articles including 10 human and six animal studies. Collectively, the results indicate that hepcidin is lower during pregnancy than in a non-pregnant state, presumably to ensure greater iron bioavailability to the mother and fetus. Pregnant women with undetectable serum hepcidin transferred a greater quantity of maternally ingested iron to their fetus compared to women with detectable hepcidin, indicating that maternal hepcidin in part determines the iron bioavailability to the fetus. However, inflammatory states, including preeclampsia, malaria infection, and obesity were associated with higher hepcidin during pregnancy compared to healthy controls, suggesting that maternal and fetal iron bioavailability could be compromised in such conditions. Future studies should examine the relative contribution of maternal versus fetal hepcidin to the control of placental iron transfer as well as optimizing maternal and fetal iron bioavailability in pregnancies complicated by inflammation.
hepcidin; pregnancy; iron regulation; inflammation
The pathogenesis of dysmetabolic iron overload syndrome (DIOS) is still unclear. Hepcidin is the key regulator of iron homeostasis controlling iron absorption and macrophage release.
To investigate hepcidin regulation by iron in DIOS.
We analysed urinary hepcidin at baseline and 24 h after a 65 mg oral iron dose in 24 patients at diagnosis and after iron depletion (n=13) and compared data with those previously observed in 23 healthy controls. Serum iron indices, liver histology and metabolic data were available for all patients.
At diagnosis, hepcidin values were significantly higher than in controls (P<0.001). After iron depletion, hepcidin levels decreased to normal values in all patients. At baseline, a significant response of hepcidin to iron challenge was observed only in the subgroup with lower basal hepcidin concentration (P=0.007). In iron-depleted patients, urinary hepcidin significantly increased after oral iron test (P=0.006).
Ours findings suggest that in DIOS, the progression of iron accumulation is counteracted by the increase in hepcidin production and progressive reduction of iron absorption, explaining why these patients develop a mild–moderate iron overload that tends to a plateau.
Despite fluctuations in dietary iron intake and intermittent losses through bleeding, the plasma iron concentrations in humans remain stable at 10–30 μM. While most of the iron entering blood plasma comes from recycling, appropriate amount of iron is absorbed from the diet to compensate for losses and maintain nontoxic amounts in stores. Plasma iron concentration and iron distribution are similarly regulated in laboratory rodents. The hepatic peptide hepcidin was identified as the systemic iron-regulatory hormone. In the efferent arc, hepcidin regulates intestinal iron absorption, plasma iron concentrations, and tissue iron distribution by inducing degradation of its receptor, the cellular iron exporter ferroportin. Ferroportin exports iron into plasma from absorptive enterocytes, from macrophages that recycle the iron of senescent erythrocytes, and from hepatocytes that store iron. In the more complex and less well understood afferent arc, hepatic hepcidin synthesis is transcriptionally regulated by extracellular and intracellular iron concentrations through a molecular complex of bone morphogenetic protein receptors and their iron-specific ligands, modulators and iron sensors. Through as yet undefined pathways, hepcidin is also homeostatically regulated by the iron requirements of erythroid precursors for hemoglobin synthesis. In accordance with the role of hepcidin-mediated iron redistribution in host defense, hepcidin production is regulated by inflammation as well. Increased hepcidin concentrations in plasma are pathogenic in iron-restrictive anemias including anemias associated with inflammation, chronic kidney disease and some cancers. Hepcidin deficiency causes iron overload in hereditary hemochromatosis and ineffective erythropoiesis. Hepcidin, ferroportin and their regulators represent potential targets for the diagnosis and treatment of iron disorders and anemias.
Iron overload; iron deficiency; anemia
The review summarizes the current understanding of the role of hepcidin and ferroportin in normal iron homeostasis and its disorders. It further discusses the various approaches to therapeutic targeting of hepcidin and ferroportin in iron overload diseases (mainly hereditary hemochromatosis and β-thalassemia) and iron-restrictive anemias (anemias associated with infections, inflammatory disorders and certain malignancies, anemia of chronic kidney diseases, iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia).
Increased cellular iron exposure is associated with colorectal cancer (CRC) risk. Hepcidin, a liver peptide hormone, acts as the primary regulator of systemic iron status by blocking iron release from enterocytes into plasma. Concentrations are decreased during low iron status and increased during inflammation. The role of hepcidin and the factors influencing its regulation in CRC remains largely unknown. This study explored systemic and tumor level iron regulation in men with CRC.
The participants were 20 CRC cases and 20 healthy control subjects. Colonic tissue (adenocarcinoma [cases] healthy mucosa [controls]) was subjected to quantitative PCR (hepcidin, iron transporters and IL-6) and Perls’ iron staining. Serum was analyzed using ELISA for hepcidin, iron status (sTfR) and inflammatory markers (CRP, IL-6, TNF-α). Anthropometrics, dietary iron intake and medical history were obtained.
Cases and controls were similar in demographics, medication use and dietary iron intake. Systemically, cases compared to controls had lower iron status (sTfR: 21.6 vs 11.8 nmol/L, p < 0.05) and higher marker of inflammation (CRP: 8.3 vs 3.4 μg/mL, p < 0.05). Serum hepcidin was mildly decreased in cases compared to controls; however, it was within the normal range for both groups. Within colonic tissue, 30% of cases (6/20) presented iron accumulation compared to 5% of controls (1/20) (χ2 = 5.0; p < 0.05) and higher marker of inflammation (IL-6: 9.4-fold higher compared to controls, p < 0.05). Presence of adenocarcinoma iron accumulation was associated with higher serum hepcidin (iron accumulation group 80.8 vs iron absence group 22.0 ng/mL, p < 0.05).
While CRC subjects had serum hepcidin concentrations in the normal range, it was higher given their degree of iron restriction. Inappropriately elevated serum hepcidin may reduce duodenal iron absorption and further increase colonic adenocarcinoma iron exposure. Future clinical studies need to assess the appropriateness of dietary iron intake or iron supplementation in patients with CRC.
Iron metabolism; Hepcidin; Inflammation; Anemia; Colorectal cancer
Testosterone administration increases hemoglobin levels and has been used to treat anemia of chronic disease. Erythrocytosis is the most frequent adverse event associated with testosterone therapy of hypogonadal men, especially older men. However, the mechanisms by which testosterone increases hemoglobin remain unknown.
Testosterone administration in male and female mice was associated with a greater increase in hemoglobin and hematocrit, reticulocyte count, reticulocyte hemoglobin concentration, and serum iron and transferring saturation than placebo. Testosterone downregulated hepatic hepcidin mRNA expression, upregulated renal erythropoietin mRNA expression, and increased erythropoietin levels. Testosterone-induced suppression of hepcidin expression was independent of its effects on erythropoietin or hypoxia-sensing mechanisms. Transgenic mice with liver-specific constitutive hepcidin over-expression failed to exhibit the expected increase in hemoglobin in response to testosterone administration. Testosterone upregulated splenic ferroportin expression and reduced iron retention in spleen. After intravenous administration of transferrin-bound 58Fe, the amount of 58Fe incorporated into red blood cells was significantly greater in testosterone-treated mice than in placebo-treated mice. Serum from testosterone-treated mice stimulated hemoglobin synthesis in K562 erythroleukemia cells more than that from vehicle-treated mice. Testosterone administration promoted the association of androgen receptor (AR) with Smad1 and Smad4 to reduce their binding to BMP-response elements in hepcidin promoter in the liver. Ectopic expression of AR in hepatocytes suppressed hepcidin transcription; this effect was blocked dose-dependently by AR antagonist flutamide. Testosterone did not affect hepcidin mRNA stability. Conclusion: Testosterone inhibits hepcidin transcription through its interaction with BMP-Smad signaling. Testosterone administration is associated with increased iron incorporation into red blood cells.
Anemia of cancer (AC) may contribute to cancer-related fatigue and impair quality of life. Improved understanding of the pathogenesis of AC could facilitate better treatment, but animal models to study AC are lacking. We characterized four syngeneic C57BL/6 mouse cancers that cause AC. Mice with two different rapidly-growing metastatic lung cancers developed the characteristic findings of anemia of inflammation (AI), with dramatically different degrees of anemia. Mice with rapidly-growing metastatic melanoma also developed a severe anemia by 14 days, with hematologic and inflammatory parameters similar to AI. Mice with a slow-growing peritoneal ovarian cancer developed an iron-deficiency anemia, likely secondary to chronically impaired nutrition and bleeding into the peritoneal cavity. Of the four models, hepcidin mRNA levels were increased only in the milder lung cancer model. Unlike in our model of systemic inflammation induced by heat-killed Brucella abortus, ablation of hepcidin in the ovarian cancer and the milder lung cancer mouse models did not affect the severity of anemia. Hepcidin-independent mechanisms play an important role in these murine models of AC.
Anemia is a frequent complication of Crohn’s disease (CD). The intestinal iron exporter ferroportin (FPN) is involved in both iron deficiency anemia and the anemia of chronic disease. To examine its role in CD, intestinal FPN expression was studied in subjects with and without CD.
Duodenal mucosal biopsies from 29 pediatric subjects with CD (n = 19) and without CD (n = 10) were obtained. FPN protein was measured using Western blot analysis and mRNA was assessed using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Intestinal FPN protein was higher in anemic CD subjects than in nonanemic CD subjects (P = 0.01), while FPN mRNA levels were not different (P = 0.66). In nonanemic CD subjects, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) (P = 0.04), C-reactive protein (CRP) (P = 0.03), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (P = 0.01) levels were elevated compared to controls. Nonanemic CD subjects had a lower median FPN protein than nonanemic controls, although it did not reach statistical significance (P = 0.07). Median FPN mRNA was similar between groups (P = 0.71). Although no correlation between FPN protein and IL-6 was noted, there was a strong negative correlation between serum iron and IL-6, both in subjects with CD (r = −0.88, P < 0.0001) and those without anemia (r = −0.58, P = 0.02).
Intestinal FPN protein is upregulated in anemic CD subjects, suggesting that iron deficiency or anemia is the driving force regulating FPN levels. A transporter distinct from FPN appears to be involved in the hypoferremia associated with the inflammatory process of CD.
Crohn’s disease; anemia; ferroportin; iron
Mutations in ferroportin (Fpn) result in iron overload. We correlate the behavior of three Fpn mutants in vitro with patients’ phenotypes. Patients with Fpn mutations A77D or N174I showed macrophage iron loading. In cultured cells, FpnA77D did not reach the cell surface and cells did not export iron. Fpn mutant N174I showed plasma membrane and intracellular localization, and did not transport iron. Fpn mutation G80S was targeted to the cell surface and was transport competent, however patients showed macrophage iron. We suggest that FpnG80S represents a class of Fpn mutants whose behavior in vitro does not explain the patients’ phenotype.
ferroportin; hemochromatosis; hepcidin; iron transport
The hepatic peptide hormone hepcidin controls the duodenal absorption of iron, its storage and its systemic distribution. Hepcidin production is often insufficient in chronic hepatitis C and alcoholic liver disease, leading to hyperabsorption of iron and its accumulation in the liver. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF) mediate the hepatic regeneration after liver injury. We examined the effect of the growth factors on hepcidin synthesis by hepatocytes. Results: HGF and EGF treatment of primary mouse hepatocytes, as well as EGF administration in mice, suppressed hepcidin mRNA synthesis. The suppression of hepcidin by these growth factors was transcriptional, and was mediated by a direct effect of HGF and EGF on the BMP pathway regulating hepcidin synthesis. We further showed that growth factors interfered with nuclear localization of activated Smads and increased the nuclear pool of the BMP transcriptional co-repressor TG-interacting factor (TGIF). In a kinase screen with small-molecule kinase inhibitors, inhibitors in the PI3 kinase pathway and in the MEK/ERK pathway prevented HGF suppression of hepcidin in primary mouse hepatocytes. Conclusion: HGF and EGF suppress hepatic hepcidin synthesis, in part through PI3 kinase MEK/ERK kinase pathways which may be modulating the nuclear localization of BMP pathway transcriptional regulators including activated Smads1/5/8 and the co-repressor TGIF. EGF, HGF and possibly other growth factors that activate similar pathways may contribute to hepcidin suppression in chronic liver diseases, promote iron accumulation in the liver and exacerbate the destructive disease processes.
Chronic liver disease; iron overload; hepatocyte growth factor; epidermal growth factor; bone morphogenetic protein pathway
Ferroportin exports iron into plasma from absorptive enterocytes, erythrophagocytosing macrophages, and hepatic stores. The hormone hepcidin controls cellular iron export and plasma iron concentrations by binding to ferroportin and causing its internalization and degradation. We explored the mechanism of hepcidin-induced endocytosis of ferroportin, the key molecular event in systemic iron homeostasis. Hepcidin binding caused rapid ubiquitination of ferroportin in cell lines overexpressing ferroportin and in murine bone marrow-derived macrophages. No hepcidin-dependent ubiquitination was observed in C326S ferroportin mutant which does not bind hepcidin. Substitutions of lysines between residues 229 and 269 in the third cytoplasmic loop of ferroportin prevented hepcidin-dependent ubiquitination and endocytosis of ferroportin, and promoted cellular iron export even in the presence of hepcidin. The human ferroportin mutation K240E, previously associated with clinical iron overload, caused hepcidin resistance in vitro by interfering with ferroportin ubiquitination. Our study demonstrates that ubiquitination is the functionally-relevant signal for hepcidin-induced ferroportin endocytosis.
Hepcidin, a 25-amino acid peptide hormone, is the principal regulator of plasma iron concentrations. Hepcidin binding to its receptor, the iron exporter ferroportin, induces ferroportin internalization and degradation, thus blocking iron efflux from cells into plasma. The aim of this study was to characterize the fate of hepcidin after binding to ferroportin. We show that hepcidin is taken up by ferroportin-expressing cells in a temperature- and pH-dependent manner, and degraded together with its receptor. When Texas red-labeled hepcidin (TR-Hep) was added to ferroportin-GFP (Fpn-GFP) expressing cells, confocal microscopy showed co-localization of TR-Hep with Fpn-GFP. Using flow cytometry, we showed that the peptide was almost completely degraded by 24 h after its addition, but that lysosomal inhibitors completely prevented degradation of both ferroportin and hepcidin. In addition, using radio-labeled hepcidin and HPLC analysis we show that hepcidin is not recycled, and that only degradation products are released from the cells. Together these results show that the hormone hepcidin and its receptor ferroportin are internalized together and trafficked to lysosomes where both are degraded.
Adequate iron availability is essential to human development and overall health. Iron is a key component of oxygen-carrying proteins, has a pivotal role in cellular metabolism, and is essential to cell growth and differentiation. Inadequate dietary iron intake, chronic and acute inflammatory conditions, and obesity are each associated with alterations in iron homeostasis. Tight regulation of iron is necessary because iron is highly toxic and human beings can only excrete small amounts through sweat, skin and enterocyte sloughing, and fecal and menstrual blood loss. Hepcidin, a small peptide hormone produced mainly by the liver, acts as the key regulator of systemic iron homeostasis. Hepcidin controls movement of iron into plasma by regulating the activity of the sole known iron exporter ferroportin-1. Downregulation of the ferroportin-1 exporter results in sequestration of iron within intestinal enterocytes, hepatocytes, and iron-storing macrophages reducing iron bioavailability. Hepcidin expression is increased by higher body iron levels and inflammation and decreased by anemia and hypoxia. Importantly, existing data illustrate that hepcidin may play a significant role in the development of several iron-related disorders, including the anemia of chronic disease and the iron dysregulation observed in obesity. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to discuss iron regulation, with specific emphasis on systemic regulation by hepcidin, and examine the role of hepcidin within several disease states, including iron deficiency, anemia of chronic disease, and obesity. The relationship between obesity and iron depletion and the clinical assessment of iron status will also be reviewed.
Hemoglobinopathies and other disorders of erythroid cells are often associated with abnormal iron homeostasis. We review the molecular physiology of intracellular and systemic iron regulation, and the interactions between erythropoiesis and iron homeostasis. Finally, we discuss iron disorders that affect erythropoiesis as well as erythroid disorders that cause iron dysregulation.
Homeostatic mechanisms maintain plasma iron concentrations at 10–30 μm. Chronically low or high concentrations lead to ineffective erythropoiesis, anemia, generation of nontransferrin-bound iron, and tissue damage.
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.
Hereditary hemochromatosis; bone morphogenetic protein 6; hemojuvelin; HFE; transferrin receptor 2
The peptide hormone hepcidin is a key homeostatic regulator of iron metabolism and involved in pathological regulation of iron in response to infection, inflammation, hypoxia and anaemia. It acts by binding to the iron exporter ferroportin, causing it to be internalised and degraded; however, little is known about the structure/activity relationships of the interaction of hepcidin with ferroportin. Here we show that there are key residues within the N-terminal region of hepcidin that influence its interaction with ferroportin, and we explore the structure/function relationships at these positions. We found that the interaction is primarily hydrophobic with critical stereochemical requirements at positions 4 and 6. In addition, a series of hepcidin mutants in which disulfide bonds had been replaced with diselenide bonds showed no change in biological activity compared to native hepcidin. The results provide mechanistic insight into the interaction between hepcidin and ferroportin and identify important constraints for the development of hepcidin congeners for the treatment of hereditary iron overload.
Hepcidin is the main regulator of systemic iron homeostasis and is primarily produced by the liver but is also expressed, at the mRNA-level, in periphery tissues including the subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue. Obesity is associated with elevated hepcidin concentrations and iron depletion suggesting that the exaggerated fat mass in obesity could contribute significantly to circulating hepcidin levels consequently altering iron homeostasis. The objective of this study was to determine if abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue (AbScAT) releases hepcidin in vivo and if release is modified by obesity. Arterio-venous differences in concentrations of hepcidin were measured across AbScAT in 9 obese and 9 lean adults. Overall (n = 18), mean plasma hepcidin concentrations were significantly higher in arterialized compared to AbScAT venous samples [mean difference (arterialized-AbScAT venous plasma hepcidin) = 4.9 ± 9.6 ng/mL, P = 0.04]. Net regional release was not calculated because mean venous plasma hepcidin concentrations were lower than mean arterialized concentrations indicating no net release. Significant correlations between AbScAT venous and arterialized plasma hepcidin concentrations with anthropometric variables were not observed. Findings from this vein drainage study suggest there is no net release of hepcidin from the AbScAT depot and thereby no ability to signal systemically, even in obesity.
hepcidin; obesity; adipose tissue; in vivo secretion; iron homeostasis
Iron overload is the hallmark of hereditary hemochromatosis and a complication of iron-loading anemias such as β-thalassemia. Treatment can be burdensome and have significant side effects, and new therapeutic options are needed. Iron overload in hereditary hemochromatosis and β-thalassemia intermedia is caused by hepcidin deficiency. Although transgenic hepcidin replacement in mouse models of these diseases prevents iron overload or decreases its potential toxicity, natural hepcidin is prohibitively expensive for human application and has unfavorable pharmacologic properties. Here, we report the rational design of hepcidin agonists based on the mutagenesis of hepcidin and the hepcidin-binding region of ferroportin and computer modeling of their docking. We identified specific hydrophobic/aromatic residues required for hepcidin-ferroportin binding and obtained evidence in vitro that a thiol-disulfide interaction between ferroportin C326 and the hepcidin disulfide cage may stabilize binding. Guided by this model, we showed that 7–9 N-terminal amino acids of hepcidin, including a single thiol cysteine, comprised the minimal structure that retained hepcidin activity, as shown by the induction of ferroportin degradation in reporter cells. Further modifications to increase resistance to proteolysis and oral bioavailability yielded minihepcidins that, after parenteral or oral administration to mice, lowered serum iron levels comparably to those after parenteral native hepcidin. Moreover, liver iron concentrations were lower in mice chronically treated with minihepcidins than those in mice treated with solvent alone. Minihepcidins may be useful for the treatment of iron overload disorders.
Iron overload is the principal cause of morbidity and mortality in β-thalassemia with or without transfusion dependence. Iron homeostasis is regulated by the hepatic peptide hormone hepcidin. Hepcidin controls dietary iron absorption, plasma iron concentrations, and tissue iron distribution. Hepcidin deficiency is the main or contributing factor of iron overload in iron-loading anemias such as β-thalassemia. Hepcidin deficiency results from a strong suppressive effect of the high erythropoietic activity on hepcidin expression. Although in thalassemia major patients iron absorption contributes less to the total iron load than transfusions, in non-transfused thalassemia, low hepcidin and the consequent hyperabsorption of dietary iron is the major cause of systemic iron overload. Hepcidin diagnostics and future therapeutic agonists may help in management of patients with β-thalassemia.
hepcidin; β-thalassemia; iron overload
Excessive iron absorption is one of the main features of β-thalassemia and can lead to severe morbidity and mortality. Serial analyses of β-thalassemic mice indicate that while hemoglobin levels decrease over time, the concentration of iron in the liver, spleen, and kidneys markedly increases. Iron overload is associated with low levels of hepcidin, a peptide that regulates iron metabolism by triggering degradation of ferroportin, an iron-transport protein localized on absorptive enterocytes as well as hepatocytes and macrophages. Patients with β-thalassemia also have low hepcidin levels. These observations led us to hypothesize that more iron is absorbed in β-thalassemia than is required for erythropoiesis and that increasing the concentration of hepcidin in the body of such patients might be therapeutic, limiting iron overload. Here we demonstrate that a moderate increase in expression of hepcidin in β-thalassemic mice limits iron overload, decreases formation of insoluble membrane-bound globins and reactive oxygen species, and improves anemia. Mice with increased hepcidin expression also demonstrated an increase in the lifespan of their red cells, reversal of ineffective erythropoiesis and splenomegaly, and an increase in total hemoglobin levels. These data led us to suggest that therapeutics that could increase hepcidin levels or act as hepcidin agonists might help treat the abnormal iron absorption in individuals with β-thalassemia and related disorders.
Patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) often have increased liver iron, a condition associated with reduced sustained response to antiviral therapy, more rapid progression to cirrhosis, and development of hepatocellular carcinoma. The hepatic hormone hepcidin is the major regulator of iron metabolism and inhibits iron absorption and recycling from erythrophagocytosis. Hepcidin decrease is a possible pathophysiological mechanism of iron overload in CHC, but studies in humans have been hampered so far by the lack of reliable quantitative assays for the 25-amino acid bioactive peptide in serum (s-hepcidin).
Using a recently validated immunoassay, we measured s-hepcidin levels in 81 untreated CHC patients and 57 controls with rigorous definition of normal iron status. All CHC patients underwent liver biopsy with histological iron score.
S-hepcidin was significantly lower in CHC patients than in controls (geometric means with 95% confidence intervals: 33.7, 21.5–52.9 vs. 90.9, 76.1–108.4 ng/mL, respectively; p < 0.001). In CHC patients, s-hepcidin significantly correlated with serum ferritin and histological total iron score, but not with s-interleukin-6. After stratification for ferritin quartiles, s-hepcidin increased significantly across quartiles in both controls and CHC patients (chi for trend, p < 0.001). However, in CHC patients, s-hepcidin was significantly lower than in controls for each corresponding quartile (analysis of variance, p < 0.001).
These results, together with very recent studies in animal and cellular models, indicate that although hepcidin regulation by iron stores is maintained in CHC, the suppression of this hormone by hepatitis C virus is likely an important factor in liver iron accumulation in this condition.
Chronic hepatitis C; Hemochromatosis; Hepcidin; Iron overload; Ferritin
Hepcidin is the central regulator of systemic iron homeostasis. Dysregulation of hepcidin production results in a variety of iron disorders. Hepcidin deficiency is the cause of iron overload in hereditary hemochromatosis, iron-loading anemias, and hepatitis C. Hepcidin excess is associated with anemia of inflammation, chronic kidney disease and iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia. Diagnostic and therapeutic applications of this new knowledge are beginning to emerge. Dr. Ernest Beutler played a significant role in advancing our understanding of the function of hepcidin. This review is dedicated to his memory.
Anemia of inflammation; Bone morphogenetic protein; Hemochromatosis; Hepcidin; Iron-loading anemia