HIF-1 regulates iron homeostasis in Caenorhabditis elegans by activation and inhibition of genes involved in iron uptake and storage

PLoS Genet. 2011 Dec;7(12):e1002394. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002394. Epub 2011 Dec 15.


Caenorhabditis elegans ftn-1 and ftn-2, which encode the iron-storage protein ferritin, are transcriptionally inhibited during iron deficiency in intestine. Intestinal specific transcription is dependent on binding of ELT-2 to GATA binding sites in an iron-dependent enhancer (IDE) located in ftn-1 and ftn-2 promoters, but the mechanism for iron regulation is unknown. Here, we identify HIF-1 (hypoxia-inducible factor -1) as a negative regulator of ferritin transcription. HIF-1 binds to hypoxia-response elements (HREs) in the IDE in vitro and in vivo. Depletion of hif-1 by RNA interference blocks transcriptional inhibition of ftn-1 and ftn-2 reporters, and ftn-1 and ftn-2 mRNAs are not regulated in a hif-1 null strain during iron deficiency. An IDE is also present in smf-3 encoding a protein homologous to mammalian divalent metal transporter-1. Unlike the ftn-1 IDE, the smf-3 IDE is required for HIF-1-dependent transcriptional activation of smf-3 during iron deficiency. We show that hif-1 null worms grown under iron limiting conditions are developmentally delayed and that depletion of FTN-1 and FTN-2 rescues this phenotype. These data show that HIF-1 regulates intestinal iron homeostasis during iron deficiency by activating and inhibiting genes involved in iron uptake and storage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Ferritins / genetics
  • GATA Transcription Factors / genetics
  • GATA Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Homeostasis / genetics
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Deficiencies
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA Interference
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • ELT-2 protein, C elegans
  • GATA Transcription Factors
  • HIF-1 protein, C elegans
  • Transcription Factors
  • smf-3 protein, C elegans
  • Ferritins
  • Iron