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Lab Invest. 2011 Nov;91(11):1615-23. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.2011.123. Epub 2011 Aug 22.

Downregulation of hemojuvelin prevents inhibitory effects of bone morphogenetic proteins on iron metabolism in hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Institute of Pathology, University of Regensburg, Germany.


Recently, we revealed that bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) 4 is increased in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Furthermore, latest reports described BMPs, in particular BMP6, as important regulators of hepcidin expression in iron homeostasis. Therefore, we aimed to unravel why enhanced BMP expression in HCC patients does not lead to severe changes in iron metabolism. Initial analysis of the BMP4 and BMP6 expression patterns revealed enhanced expression on mRNA and protein level in HCC cell lines and tissue samples compared with primary human hepatocytes (PHHs) and normal liver tissues. However and interestingly, hepcidin expression was reduced in HCC cell lines and tissues. Analysis of BMP6 receptor expression revealed loss of BMP6-specific receptor subunit in HCC. To identify a possible regulatory mechanism causing lack of reaction to BMP4 we analyzed the expression of hemojuvelin (HJV), which is involved in iron metabolism as BMP co-receptor. HJV expression was markedly decreased in HCC cell lines and tissues. HJV promoter analysis revealed potential HNF-1α and snail-binding sites, but functional analysis ruled out that these transcriptional regulators or promoter methylation are the cause of HJV downregulation in HCC. However, we identified AU-rich elements in the HJV 3'-untranslated region and revealed significantly faster decay of HJV mRNA in HCC cells as compared with PHH indicating decreased mRNA-stability as the reason for the loss of HJV expression in HCC.

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