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Blood. 2003 Jul 1;102(1):371-6. Epub 2003 Mar 13.

Expression of hepcidin in hereditary hemochromatosis: evidence for a regulation in response to the serum transferrin saturation and to non-transferrin-bound iron.

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Department of Internal Medicine IV, University Hospital Heidelberg, Bergheimer Strasse 58, 69115 Heidelberg, Germany.


Experimental data suggest the antimicrobial peptide hepcidin as a central regulator in iron homeostasis. In this study, we characterized the expression of human hepcidin in experimental and clinical iron overload conditions, including hereditary hemochromatosis. Using quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), we determined expression of hepcidin and the most relevant iron-related genes in liver biopsies from patients with hemochromatosis and iron-stain-negative control subjects. Regulation of hepcidin mRNA expression in response to transferrin-bound iron, non-transferrin-bound iron, and deferoxamine was analyzed in HepG2 cells. Hepcidin expression correlated significantly with serum ferritin levels in controls, whereas no significant up-regulation was observed in patients with hemochromatosis despite iron-overload conditions and high serum ferritin levels. However, patients with hemochromatosis showed an inverse correlation between hepcidin transcript levels and the serum transferrin saturation. Moreover, we found a significant correlation between hepatic transcript levels of hepcidin and transferrin receptor-2 irrespective of the iron status. In vitro data indicated that hepcidin expression is down-regulated in response to non-transferrin-bound iron. In conclusion, the presented data suggest a close relationship between the transferrin saturation and hepatic hepcidin expression in hereditary hemochromatosis. Although the causality is not yet clear, this interaction might result from a down-regulation of hepcidin expression in response to significant levels of non-transferrin-bound iron.

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