Iron storage disease: facts, fiction and progress.

There are many forms of iron storage disease, some hereditary and some acquired. The most common of the hereditary forms is HFE-associated hemochromatosis, and it is this disorder that is the main focus of this presentation. The body iron content is regulated by controlling absorption, and studies in the past decade have clarified, in part, how this regulation functions. A 25-amino-acid peptide hepcidin is up-regulated by iron and by inflammation, and it inhibits iron absorption and traps iron in macrophages by binding to and causing degradation of the iron transport protein ferroportin. Most forms of hemochromatosis results from dysregulation of hepcidin or defects of hepcidin or ferroportin themselves. Hereditary hemochromatosis was once considered to be very rare, but in the 1970s and 1980s, with the introduction of better diagnostic tests, it was considered the most common disease among Europeans. Controlled epidemiologic studies carried out in the last decade have shown, however, the disease itself actually is rare, and only its genotype and associated biochemical changes that are common. We do not understand why only a few homozygotes develop severe disease. It now seems unlikely that there are important modifying genes, and although alcohol is known to have some effect, excess drinking probably plays only a modest role in determining the hemochromatosis phenotype. Hereditary hemochromatosis is readily treated by phlebotomy. Secondary forms of the disease require chelation therapy, and the recent introduction of effective oral chelating agents is an important step forward in treating patients with disorders in which iron overload often proves to be fatal, such as thalassemia, myelodysplastic anemias, and dyserythropoietic anemias. While much has been learned about the regulation of iron homeostasis in the past decade, many mysteries remain and represent challenges that will keep us occupied for years to come.
AuthorsErnest Beutler
JournalBlood cells, molecules & diseases (Blood Cells Mol Dis) 2007 Sep-Oct Vol. 39 Issue 2 Pg. 140-7 ISSN: 1079-9796 [Print] United States
PMID17540589 (Publication Type: Journal Article, Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't, Review)
Chemical References
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • HAMP protein, human
  • Hepcidins
  • metal transporting protein 1
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides (genetics, physiology)
  • Cation Transport Proteins (genetics, physiology)
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Hemochromatosis (etiology, genetics, therapy)
  • Hepcidins
  • Humans
  • Penetrance

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