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J Clin Invest. 2011 Dec;121(12):4880-8. doi: 10.1172/JCI57693.

Minihepcidins are rationally designed small peptides that mimic hepcidin activity in mice and may be useful for the treatment of iron overload.

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Department of Pathology, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA.


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.

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