Regulation of transferrin, transferrin receptor, and ferritin genes in human duodenum

Gastroenterology. 1992 Mar;102(3):802-9. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(92)90161-q.


To gain insights at the molecular level into the expression of iron-regulated genes [transferrin (Tf), transferrin receptor (TfR), and ferritin H and L subunits] in human intestinal areas relevant to iron absorption, the steady-state levels of specific messenger RNAs (mRNAs) were analyzed in gastric and duodenal samples obtained from 6 normal subjects, or 10 patients with anemia, 14 patients with untreated iron overload, and 8 patients with various gastrointestinal disorders. No Tf mRNA was detected in human gastroduodenal tissue, confirming earlier findings in the rat. In normal subjects, although higher levels of ferritin H- and L-subunit mRNAs were consistently found in duodenal than in gastric samples, no differences in the content of TfR transcripts were detected. However, a dramatic increase in TfR mRNA levels was specifically found in duodenal samples from subjects with mild iron deficiency but severe anemia. This response of the TfR gene is presumably secondary to decreased cellular iron content due to its accelerated transfer into the bloodstream, as also indicated by the low levels of ferritin subunit mRNAs found in the same tissue samples, and is not linked to faster growth rate of mucosal cells because no changes in duodenal expression of histone, a growth-related gene, were detected. In patients with secondary iron overload, a down-regulation of duodenal TfR gene expression and a concomitant increase in ferritin mRNA content were documented. On the contrary, a lack of TfR gene down-regulation and an abnormally low accumulation of ferritin H- and L-subunit mRNAs were detected in the duodenums of subjects with idiopathic hemochromatosis. Whether these molecular abnormalities in idiopathic hemochromatosis are relevant to the metabolic defect(s) of the disease is presently unknown.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anemia / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Duodenum / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Ferritins / biosynthesis*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Hemochromatosis / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Probes
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Receptors, Transferrin / biosynthesis*
  • Transferrin / biosynthesis*


  • Histones
  • Molecular Probes
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Transferrin
  • Ferritins