Background & aims: Hepcidin is an antimicrobial peptide thought to be involved in the regulation of intestinal iron absorption. To further investigate its role in this process, we examined hepatic and duodenal gene expression in rats after the switch from a control diet to an iron-deficient diet.
Methods: Adult rats on an iron-replete diet were switched to an iron-deficient diet and the expression of iron homeostasis molecules in duodenal and liver tissue was studied over 14 days. Intestinal iron absorption was determined at these same time-points by measuring the retention of an oral dose of (59)Fe.
Results: Iron absorption increased 2.7-fold within 6 days of switching to an iron-deficient diet and was accompanied by an increase in the duodenal expression of Dcytb, divalent metal transporter 1, and Ireg1. These changes precisely correlated with decreases in hepatic hepcidin expression and transferrin saturation. No change in iron stores or hematologic parameters was detected.
Conclusions: This study showed a close relationship between the expression of hepcidin, duodenal iron transporters, and iron absorption. Both hepcidin expression and iron absorption can be regulated before iron stores and erythropoiesis are affected, and transferrin saturation may signal such changes.