Background: The peptide hormone hepcidin plays a central role in regulating dietary iron absorption and body iron distribution. Many human diseases are associated with alterations in hepcidin concentrations. The measurement of hepcidin in biological fluids is therefore a promising tool in the diagnosis and management of medical conditions in which iron metabolism is affected.
Content: We describe hepcidin structure, kinetics, function, and regulation. We moreover explore the therapeutic potential for modulating hepcidin expression and the diagnostic potential for hepcidin measurements in clinical practice.
Summary: Cell-culture, animal, and human studies have shown that hepcidin is predominantly synthesized by hepatocytes, where its expression is regulated by body iron status, erythropoietic activity, oxygen tension, and inflammatory cytokines. Hepcidin lowers serum iron concentrations by counteracting the function of ferroportin, a major cellular iron exporter present in the membrane of macrophages, hepatocytes, and the basolateral site of enterocytes. Hepcidin is detected in biologic fluids as a 25 amino acid isoform, hepcidin-25, and 2 smaller forms, i.e., hepcidin-22 and -20; however, only hepcidin-25 has been shown to participate in the regulation of iron metabolism. Reliable assays to measure hepcidin in blood and urine by use of immunochemical and mass spectrometry methods have been developed. Results of proof-of-principle studies have highlighted hepcidin as a promising diagnostic tool and therapeutic target for iron disorders. However, before hepcidin measurements can be used in routine clinical practice, efforts will be required to assess the relevance of hepcidin isoform measurements, to harmonize the different assays, to define clinical decision limits, and to increase assay availability for clinical laboratories.