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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2018 Oct 1;315(4):G560-G568. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00070.2018. Epub 2018 Jun 21.

Liver HFE protein content is posttranscriptionally decreased in iron-deficient mice and rats.

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Institute of Pathological Physiology, First Faculty of Medicine, Charles University , Prague , Czech Republic.
Laboratory of Tumour Resistance, Institute of Biotechnology, Biotechnology and Biomedicine Center of the Academy of Sciences and Charles University in Vestec Research Center, Czech Academy of Sciences, Vestec, Czech Republic.
Department of Anesthesiology, Intensive Care, and Pain Medicine, University Hospital Muenster, Muenster University , Muenster , Germany.


Although the relationship between hereditary hemochromatosis and mutations in the HFE gene was discovered more than 20 years ago, information on the in vivo regulation of HFE protein expression is still limited. The purpose of the study was to determine the response of liver HFE protein content to iron deficiency in mice and rats by immunoblotting. Attempts to visualize the HFE protein in whole liver homogenates were unsuccessful; however, HFE could be detected in liver microsomes or in plasma membrane-enriched fractions. Five-week-old male C57BL/6 mice fed an iron-deficient diet for 4 wk presented with a significant decrease in liver iron content and liver Hamp expression, as well as with a significant decrease in liver HFE protein content. Rats fed an iron-deficient diet for 4 wk also displayed significant decrease in liver Hamp expression and liver HFE protein content. These results suggest that the downregulation of HFE-dependent signaling may contribute to decreased Hamp gene expression in states of prolonged iron deficiency. It has recently been proposed that HFE protein could be a potential target of matriptase-2, a hepatocyte protease mutated in iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia. However, immunoblot analysis of HFE protein in the livers from Tmprss6-mutated mask mice did not show evidence of matriptase-2-dependent HFE protein cleavage. In addition, no indication of HFE protein cleavage was seen in iron-deficient rats, whereas the full-length matriptase-2 protein content in the same animals was significantly increased. These results suggest that HFE is probably not a major physiological target of matriptase-2. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Feeding of iron-deficient diet for 4 wk decreased liver HFE protein content in both mice and rats, suggesting that decreased HFE-dependent signaling may contribute to hepcidin downregulation in iron deficiency. There was no difference in HFE protein band appearance between matriptase-2-mutated mask mice and wild-type mice, indicating that HFE is probably not a major physiological substrate of matriptase-2-mediated protease activity in vivo.


ALK3; hemojuvelin; hepcidin; matriptase-2; transferrin receptor 2


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