Patients suffering from hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) show progressive iron overload as a consequence of increased duodenal iron absorption. It has been hypothesized that mutations in the HH gene HFE cause misprogramming of the duodenal enterocytes towards a paradoxical iron-deficient state, resulting in increased iron transporter expression. Previous reports concerning gene expression levels of the duodenal iron transporters DMT1 and IREG1 in HH patients and animal models are controversial, however, and in many cases only mRNA expression levels were investigated. To analyze the duodenal expression of DMT1, Ireg1, Dcytb, and hephaestin and the association with iron overload in adult Hfe(-/-) mice, an Hfe(-/-) mouse line was generated. Duodenal DMT1 and Ireg1 protein levels, duodenal DMT1, Ireg1, Dcytb, hephaestin, and TfR1 mRNA levels, and hepatic hepcidin mRNA levels were quantified and the correlation to liver iron contents was calculated. We report that duodenal DMT1 and Ireg1 mRNA levels and DMT1 and Ireg1 protein levels remained unaffected by the Hfe deletion. Furthermore, duodenal hephaestin and TfR1 mRNA expression and hepatic hepcidin mRNA expression remained unaltered, while the duodenal mRNA expression of the brush border ferric reductase Dcytb was significantly increased in Hfe(-/-) mice. We found no correlation between the expression level of any of the analyzed transcripts and the liver iron content. In conclusion, the lack of correlation between DMT1 and Ireg1 protein expression and the liver iron content suggests that elevated duodenal iron transporter expression is not required for high liver iron overload. Hfe(-/-) mice do not necessarily display features of iron deficiency in the duodenum, indicated by an increase in mRNA and protein levels of DMT1 and Ireg1. Rather, the duodenal ferric reductase Dcytb may act as a possible mediator of iron overload in Hfe deficiency.
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