, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 665-674

First online:

Regulation of systemic iron homeostasis: how the body responds to changes in iron demand

  • Gregory J. AndersonAffiliated withIron Metabolism Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research Email author 
  • , Deepak DarshanAffiliated withIron Metabolism Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research
  • , Sarah J. WilkinsAffiliated withIron Metabolism Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research
  • , David M. FrazerAffiliated withIron Metabolism Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research

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The iron that is required to meet the metabolic needs of cells and tissues is derived from the plasma. Plasma iron in turn reflects the release of iron from various body cells, principally the macrophages of the reticuloendothelial system, and the absorption of dietary iron by the proximal small intestine. This iron donation is highly regulated and the liver-derived peptide hepcidin has emerged as the key modulator of cellular iron export. Following its synthesis and secretion from the liver, circulating hepcidin reduces iron export into the plasma by binding to the iron efflux protein ferroportin1 on the surface of enterocytes, macrophages and other cell types and causing its internalization. The level of hepatic hepcidin expression is influenced by HFE, transferrin receptor 2 and hemojuvelin, and the signal transduction pathway(s) linking these proteins to hepcidin are only beginning to be revealed. Hemojuvelin has recently been shown to signal through the bone morphogenetic protein pathway, ultimately activating receptor SMAD/SMAD4 complexes to alter hepcidin transcription. Circulating differic transferrin has emerged as a possible upstream regulator of the liver-based hepcidin regulatory pathway. In addition to being regulated by body iron requirements, hepcidin expression can be modulated by pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6. The continuing analysis of inherited disorders of iron metabolism combined with biochemical analysis of signal transduction pathways is essential to fully define this important regulatory system.


Hemojuvelin HFE TfR2 Hepcidin Ferroportin1