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Hepatology. 2017 May;65(5):1512-1525. doi: 10.1002/hep.29007. Epub 2017 Mar 22.

Human macrophage ferroportin biology and the basis for the ferroportin disease.

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Division of Internal Medicine 2 and Center for Hemochromatosis, University Hospital of Modena, Modena, Italy.
INGM, 'Romeo ed Enrica Invernizzi', Milano, Italy.
Department of Biosciences, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.


Ferroportin (FPN1) is the sole iron exporter in mammals, but its cell-specific function and regulation are still elusive. This study examined FPN1 expression in human macrophages, the cells that are primarily responsible on a daily basis for plasma iron turnover and are central in the pathogenesis of ferroportin disease (FD), the disease attributed to lack-of-function FPN1 mutations. We characterized FPN1 protein expression and traffic by confocal microscopy, western blotting, gel filtration, and immunoprecipitation studies in macrophages from control blood donors (donor) and patients with either FPN1 p.A77D, p.G80S, and p.Val162del lack-of-function or p.A69T gain-of-function mutations. We found that in normal macrophages, FPN1 cycles in the early endocytic compartment does not multimerize and is promptly degraded by hepcidin (Hepc), its physiological inhibitor, within 3-6 hours. In FD macrophages, endogenous FPN1 showed a similar localization, except for greater accumulation in lysosomes. However, in contrast with previous studies using overexpressed mutant protein in cell lines, FPN1 could still reach the cell surface and be normally internalized and degraded upon exposure to Hepc. However, when FD macrophages were exposed to large amounts of heme iron, in contrast to donor and p.A69T macrophages, FPN1 could no longer reach the cell surface, leading to intracellular iron retention.


FPN1 cycles as a monomer within the endocytic/plasma membrane compartment and responds to its physiological inhibitor, Hepc, in both control and FD cells. However, in FD, FPN1 fails to reach the cell surface when cells undergo high iron turnover. Our findings provide a basis for the FD characterized by a preserved iron transfer in the enterocytes (i.e., cells with low iron turnover) and iron retention in cells exposed to high iron flux, such as liver and spleen macrophages. (Hepatology 2017;65:1512-1525).

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