Iron overload results in significant morbidity and mortality in beta-thalassemic patients. Insufficient hepcidin is implicated in parenchymal iron overload in beta-thalassemia and approaches to increase hepcidin have therapeutic potential. We have previously shown that exogenous apo-transferrin markedly ameliorates ineffective erythropoiesis and increases hepcidin expression in Hbb(th1/th1) (thalassemic) mice. We utilize in vivo and in vitro systems to investigate effects of exogenous apo-transferrin on Smad and ERK1/2 signaling, pathways that participate in hepcidin regulation. Our results demonstrate that apo-transferrin increases hepcidin expression in vivo despite decreased circulating and parenchymal iron concentrations and unchanged liver Bmp6 mRNA expression in thalassemic mice. Hepatocytes from apo-transferrin-treated mice demonstrate decreased ERK1/2 pathway and increased serum BMP2 concentration and hepatocyte BMP2 expression. Furthermore, hepatocyte ERK1/2 phosphorylation is enhanced by neutralizing anti-BMP2/4 antibodies and suppressed in vitro in a dose-dependent manner by BMP2, resulting in converse effects on hepcidin expression, and hepatocytes treated with MEK/ERK1/2 inhibitor U0126 in combination with BMP2 exhibit an additive increase in hepcidin expression. Lastly, bone marrow erythroferrone expression is normalized in apo-transferrin treated thalassemic mice but increased in apo-transferrin injected wild-type mice. These findings suggest that increased hepcidin expression after exogenous apo-transferrin is in part independent of erythroferrone and support a model in which apo-transferrin treatment in thalassemic mice increases BMP2 expression in the liver and other organs, decreases hepatocellular ERK1/2 activation, and increases nuclear Smad to increase hepcidin expression in hepatocytes.
School of Medicine