Iron storage disease in red deer (Cervus elaphus elaphus) is not associated with mutations in the HFE gene

J Comp Pathol. 2011 Aug-Oct;145(2-3):207-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jcpa.2010.12.012. Epub 2011 Feb 18.


Iron storage diseases are rare conditions of dysregulated iron metabolism in man and animals. A genetic basis has been confirmed only for human haemochromatosis. Iron storage disease was diagnosed in six related, 2-year-old male red deer of the same herd. These animals presented with weight loss and rough hair coats. Haematological examination was unremarkable. At necropsy examination, gross lesions were restricted to cachexia. Microscopical examination revealed severe, diffuse hepatocellular necrosis and iron accumulation in hepatocytes, Kupffer cells, cardiac myocytes and renal tubular cells in all affected animals. Four animals also had moderate bridging fibrosis in the liver. Hepatic iron concentrations were increased (1108-2275 mg/kg wet weight; reference range 100-200 mg/kg). Drinking water in rusty iron tubs in the deer park contained eight times more iron than the accepted level for human drinking water. To test for a possible genetic basis of increased iron uptake and storage in red deer, the cervid haemochromatosis gene (HFE) was identified. Sequence comparisons between the six diseased animals and three healthy free-ranging unrelated animals failed to identify differences in the HFE sequences. Furthermore, the disease was not associated with common amino acid substitutions reported in human patients with haemochromatosis, including C282Y and H63D. Polymorphisms in other non-HFE genes involved in iron metabolism may have led to a higher sensitivity to iron and this, together with the high iron content of the drinking water, may have been the cause of the observed iron storage in these red deer.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Deer / genetics*
  • Hemochromatosis / genetics
  • Hemochromatosis / metabolism
  • Hemochromatosis / pathology
  • Hemochromatosis / veterinary*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Iron