Hepcidin Signaling in Health and Disease: Ironing Out the Details.

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Hepatol Commun


washington; seattle; swedish


Hepcidin, a peptide hormone produced by hepatocytes, is the central regulator of systemic iron homeostasis through its interaction with ferroportin, the major cellular iron export protein. Hepcidin binding to ferroportin results in reduced iron export from macrophages and intestinal absorptive cells, leading to decreased serum iron levels. Hepcidin expression is influenced by several factors that include serum and liver iron stores, erythropoiesis, hypoxia, inflammation, and infection. Erythropoietic drive and hypoxia suppress hepcidin expression and promote red cell production. In contrast, inflammation and infection are associated with increased hepcidin production to sequester iron intracellularly as a means of depriving microorganisms of iron. Chronic inflammation may up-regulate hepcidin expression through the interleukin-6 (IL-6)-Janus kinase 2 (JAK2)-signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) pathway. The bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-mothers against decapentaplegic homolog (SMAD) pathway is a major positive driver of hepcidin expression in response to either increased circulating iron in the form of transferrin or iron loading in organs. Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) consists of several inherited disorders that cause inappropriately reduced hepcidin expression in response to body iron stores, leading to increased iron absorption from a normal diet. The most common form of HH is due to a mutation in the HFE gene, which causes a failure in the hepatocyte iron-sensing mechanism, leading to reduced hepcidin expression; the clinical manifestations of HFE-HH include increased serum transferrin-iron saturation and progressive iron loading in the liver and other tissues over time among patients who express the disease phenotype. In this article, we review the physiologic mechanisms and cellular pathways by which hepcidin expression is regulated, and the different forms of HH resulting from various mutations that cause hepcidin deficiency. We also review other drivers of hepcidin expression and the associated pathophysiologic consequences.