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
Anemia of chronic disease, also called anemia of inflammation, is characterized by hypoferremia due to iron sequestration that eventually results in iron-restricted erythropoiesis. During the last decade, the molecular mechanisms of iron sequestration have been found to center on cytokine-stimulated overproduction of the iron-regulatory hormone hepcidin. The inflammatory cytokine IL-6 is a particularly prominent inducer of hepcidin but other cytokines are likely to contribute as well. Hepcidin excess causes the endocytosis and proteolysis of the sole known cellular iron exporter, ferroportin, trapping iron in macrophages and iron-absorbing enterocytes. The supply of iron to hemoglobin synthesis becomes limiting, eventually resulting in anemia. Depending on the details of the underlying disease, other inflammation-related mechanisms may also contribute to anemia.
The hepatic peptide hormone hepcidin regulates dietary iron absorption, plasma iron concentrations, and tissue iron distribution. Hepcidin acts by causing the degradation of its receptor, the cellular iron exporter ferroportin. The loss of ferroportin decreases iron flow into plasma from absorptive enterocytes, from macrophages that recycle the iron of senescent erythrocytes, and from hepatocytes that store iron, thereby lowering plasma iron concentrations. Malfunctions of the hepcidin-ferroportin axis contribute to the pathogenesis of different anemias. Deficient production of hepcidin causes systemic iron overload in iron-loading anemias such as beta-thalassemia; whereas hepcidin excess contributes to the development of anemia in inflammatory disorders and chronic kidney disease, and may cause erythropoietin resistance. The diagnosis of different forms of anemia will be facilitated by improved hepcidin assays, and the treatment will be enhanced by the development of hepcidin agonists and antagonists.
Anemia in patients with Crohn’s disease (CD) is a common problem of multifactorial origin, including blood loss, mal-absorption of iron, and anemia of inflammation. Anemia of inflammation is caused by the effects of inflammatory cytokines [predominantly interleukin-6 (IL-6)] on iron transport in enterocytes and macrophages. We sought to elucidate alterations in iron absorption in pediatric patients with active and inactive CD.
Nineteen subjects with CD (8 female, 11 male patients) were recruited between April 2003 and June 2004. After an overnight fast, serum iron and hemoglobin levels, serum markers of inflammation [IL-6, C-reactive protein (CRP), and erythrocyte sedimentation rate], and a urine sample for hepcidin assay were obtained at 8 am. Ferrous sulfate (1 mg/kg) was administered orally, followed by determination of serum iron concentrations hourly for 4 hours after the ingestion of iron. An area under the curve for iron absorption was calculated for each patient data set.
There was a strong inverse correlation between the area under the curve and IL-6 (P = 0.002) and area under the curve and CRP levels (P = 0.04). Similarly, the difference between baseline and 2-hour serum iron level (Δ [Fe]2hr) correlated with IL-6 (P = 0.008) and CRP (P = 0.045). When cutoff values for IL-6 (>5 pg/mL) and CRP (>1.0 mg/dL) were used, urine hepcidin levels also positively correlated with IL-6 and CRP levels (P = 0.003 and 0.007, respectively).
Subjects with active CD have impaired oral iron absorption and elevated IL-6 levels compared with subjects with inactive disease. These findings suggest that oral iron may be of limited benefit to these patients. Future study is needed to define the molecular basis for impaired iron absorption.
inflammatory bowel disease; hepcidin; interleukin-6; pediatric
Mammalian iron homeostasis is regulated by the interaction of the liver-produced peptide hepcidin and its receptor, the iron transporter ferroportin. Hepcidin binds to ferroportin resulting in degradation of ferroportin and decreased cellular iron export. We identify the hepcidin-binding domain (HBD) on ferroportin and show that a synthetic 19 amino acid peptide corresponding to the HBD recapitulates the characteristics and specificity of hepcidin binding to cell surface ferroportin. The binding of mammalian hepcidin to ferroportin or the HBD shows an unusual temperature dependency with an increased rate of dissociation at temperatures below 15°C. The increased rate of dissociation is due to temperature dependent changes in hepcidin structure. In contrast, hepcidin from poikilothermic vertebrates, such as fish or frogs, binds the HBD in a temperature independent fashion. The affinity of hepcidin for the HBD permits a rapid, sensitive assay of hepcidin from all species and yields insights into the evolution of hepcidin.
As the principal iron-regulatory hormone, hepcidin plays an important role in systemic iron homeostasis. The regulation of hepcidin expression by iron loading appears to be unexpectedly complex and has attracted much interest. The GPI-linked membrane protein hemojuvelin (GPI-hemojuvelin) is an essential upstream regulator of hepcidin expression. A soluble form of hemojuvelin (s-hemojuvelin) exists in blood and acts as antagonist of GPI-hemojuvelin to downregulate hepcidin expression. The release of s-hemojuvelin is negatively regulated by both transferrin-bound iron (holo-Tf) and non-transferrin bound iron (FAC), indicating s-hemojuvelin could be one of the mediators of hepcidin regulation by iron. In this report, we investigate the proteinase involved in the release of s-hemojuvelin and show that s-hemojuvelin is released by a proprotein convertase through the cleavage at a conserved polybasic RNRR site.
hepcidin; iron; furin convertase inhibitor; GPI anchor; repulsive guidance molecule C
Ferroportin (Fpn) is the only known iron exporter in vertebrates. Hepcidin, a peptide secreted by the liver in response to iron or inflammation, binds to Fpn, inducing its internalization and degradation. We show that after binding of hepcidin, Fpn is tyrosine phosphorylated at the plasma membrane. Mutants of human Fpn that do not get internalized or that are internalized slowly show either absent or impaired phosphorylation. We identify adjacent tyrosines as the phosphorylation sites and show that mutation of both tyrosines prevents hepcidin-mediated Fpn internalization. Once internalized, Fpn is dephosphorylated and subsequently ubiquitinated. An inability to ubiquitinate Fpn does not prevent hepcidin-induced internalization, but it inhibits the degradation of Fpn. Ubiquitinated Fpn is trafficked through the multivesicular body pathway en route to degradation in the late endosome/lysosome. Depletion of proteins involved in multivesicular body trafficking (Endosome Sorting Complex Required for Transport proteins), by small-interfering RNA, reduces the trafficking of Fpn-green fluorescent to the lysosome.
Hypoferremia is a common response to systemic infections or generalized inflammatory disorders. In mouse models, the development of hypoferremia during inflammation requires hepcidin, an iron regulatory peptide hormone produced in the liver, but the inflammatory signals that regulate hepcidin are largely unknown. Our studies in human liver cell cultures, mice, and human volunteers indicate that IL-6 is the necessary and sufficient cytokine for the induction of hepcidin during inflammation and that the IL-6–hepcidin axis is responsible for the hypoferremia of inflammation.