Background: Iron is utilized by several proteins as cofactor for major biological processes. However, iron may also harm cells by catalyzing the generation of free radicals and promoting oxidative stress. Acquisition, transport, utilization and storage of iron are tightly controlled to meet physiological needs and prevent excessive accumulation of the metal within cells. Plasma transferrin has been known for years as a central player in iron metabolism, assigned to circulate iron in a soluble, non-toxic form and deliver it to the erythron and other tissues. Recent data uncovered an additional role of transferrin as an upstream regulator of hepcidin, a liver-derived peptide hormone that controls systemic iron traffic.
Scope of review: Here, we review basic features of iron metabolism, highlighting the function of transferrin in iron transport and cellular iron uptake. We further discuss the role of hepcidin as an orchestrator of systemic iron homeostasis, and the mechanisms underlying hepcidin regulation in response to various physiological cues. Emphasis is given on the role of transferrin on iron-dependent hepcidin regulation.
Major conclusions: Transferrin exerts a crucial function in the maintenance of systemic iron homeostasis as component of a plasma iron sensing system that modulates hepcidin expression.
General significance: Proper expression of transferrin and hepcidin are essential for health, and disruption of their regulatory circuits is associated with iron-related disorders. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Transferrins: Molecular mechanisms of iron transport and disorders.
Copyright Â© 2011. Published by Elsevier B.V.