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Blood. 2009 Jun 11;113(24):6225-36. doi: 10.1182/blood-2009-01-201590. Epub 2009 Apr 20.

Hepcidin, the hormone of iron metabolism, is bound specifically to alpha-2-macroglobulin in blood.

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  • 1Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, Prague, Czech Republic.


Hepcidin is a major regulator of iron metabolism. Hepcidin-based therapeutics/diagnostics could play roles in hematology in the future, and thus, hepcidin transport is crucial to understand. In this study, we identify alpha2-macroglobulin (alpha2-M) as the specific hepcidin-binding molecule in blood. Interaction of 125I-hepcidin with alpha2-M was identified using fractionation of plasma proteins followed by native gradient polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry. Hepcidin binding to nonactivated alpha2-M displays high affinity (Kd 177 +/- 27 nM), whereas hepcidin binding to albumin was nonspecific and displayed nonsaturable kinetics. Surprisingly, the interaction of hepcidin with activated alpha2-M exhibited a classical sigmoidal binding curve demonstrating cooperative binding of 4 high-affinity (Kd 0.3 microM) hepcidin-binding sites. This property probably enables efficient sequestration of hepcidin and its subsequent release or inactivation that may be important for its effector functions. Because alpha2-M rapidly targets ligands to cells via receptor-mediated endocytosis, the binding of hepcidin to alpha2-M may influence its functions. In fact, the alpha2-M-hepcidin complex decreased ferroportin expression in J774 cells more effectively than hepcidin alone. The demonstration that alpha2-M is the hepcidin transporter could lead to better understanding of hepcidin physiology, methods for its sensitive measurement and the development of novel drugs for the treatment of iron-related diseases.

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