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J Biol Chem. 2001 Mar 16;276(11):7811-9. Epub 2000 Dec 11.

A new mouse liver-specific gene, encoding a protein homologous to human antimicrobial peptide hepcidin, is overexpressed during iron overload.

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INSERM U522, CHRU Pontchaillou, Rennes, France.


Considering that the development of hepatic lesions related to iron overload diseases might be a result of abnormally expressed hepatic genes, we searched for new genes up-regulated under the condition of iron excess. By suppressive subtractive hybridization performed between livers from carbonyl iron-overloaded and control mice, we isolated a 225-base pair cDNA. By Northern blot analysis, the corresponding mRNA was confirmed to be overexpressed in livers of experimentally (carbonyl iron and iron-dextran-treated mice) and spontaneously (beta(2)-microglobulin knockout mice) iron-overloaded mice. In addition, beta(2)-microglobulin knockout mice fed with a low iron content diet exhibited a decrease of hepatic mRNA expression. The murine full-length cDNA was isolated and was found to encode an 83-amino acid protein presenting a strong homology in its C-terminal region to the human antimicrobial peptide hepcidin. In addition, we cloned the corresponding rat and human orthologue cDNAs. Both mouse and human genes named HEPC are constituted of 3 exons and 2 introns and are located on chromosome 7 and 19, respectively, in close proximity to USF2 gene. In mouse and human, HEPC mRNA was predominantly expressed in the liver. During both in vivo and in vitro studies, HEPC mRNA expression was enhanced in mouse hepatocytes under the effect of lipopolysaccharide. Finally, to analyze the intracellular localization of the predicted protein, we used the green fluorescent protein chimera expression vectors. The murine green fluorescent protein-prohepcidin protein was exclusively localized in the nucleus. When the putative nuclear localization signal was deleted, the resulting protein was addressed to the cytoplasm. Taken together, our data strongly suggest that the product of the new liver-specific gene HEPC might play a specific role during iron overload and exhibit additional functions distinct from its antimicrobial activity.

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