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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012 Jun 15;302(12):G1397-404. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00020.2012. Epub 2012 Apr 19.

Ferritin upregulates hepatic expression of bone morphogenetic protein 6 and hepcidin in mice.

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Department of Pediatrics, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63104, USA.


Hepcidin is a hepatocellular hormone that inhibits the release of iron from certain cell populations, including enterocytes and reticuloendothelial cells. The regulation of hepcidin (HAMP) gene expression by iron status is mediated in part by the signaling molecule bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6). We took advantage of the low iron status of juvenile mice to characterize the regulation of Bmp6 and Hamp1 expression by iron administered in three forms: 1) ferri-transferrin (Fe-Tf), 2) ferric ammonium citrate (FAC), and 3) liver ferritin. Each of these forms of iron enters cells by distinct mechanisms and chemical forms. Iron was parenterally administered to 10-day-old mice, and hepatic expression of Bmp6 and Hamp1 mRNAs was measured 6 h later. We observed that hepatic Bmp6 expression increased in response to ferritin but was unchanged by Fe-Tf or FAC. Hepatic Hamp1 expression likewise increased in response to ferritin and Fe-Tf but was decreased by FAC. Exogenous ferritin increased Bmp6 and Hamp1 expression in older mice as well. Removing iron from ferritin markedly decreased its effect on Bmp6 expression. Exogenously administered ferritin and the derived iron localized in the liver primarily to sinusoidal lining cells. Moreover, expression of Bmp6 mRNA in isolated adult rodent liver cells was much higher in sinusoidal lining cells than hepatocytes (endothelial >> stellate > Kupffer). We conclude that exogenous iron-containing ferritin upregulates hepatic Bmp6 expression, and we speculate that liver ferritin contributes to regulation of Bmp6 and, thus, Hamp1 genes.

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