This review is focused on the mammalian SLC11 and SLC40 families and their roles in iron homeostasis. The SLC11 family is composed of two members, SLC11A1 and SLC11A2. SLC11A1 is expressed in the lysosomal compartment of macrophages and in the tertiary granules of neutrophils, playing a key role in innate resistance against infection by intracellular microbes. SLC11A2 is a key player in iron metabolism and is ubiquitously expressed, most notably in the proximal duodenum, immature erythroid cells, brain, placenta and kidney. Intestinal iron absorption is mediated by SLC11A2 at the apical membrane of enterocytes, followed by basolateral exit via SLC40A1. To meet the daily requirement for iron, approximately 80% of the iron comes from the breakdown of hemoglobin following macrophage phagocytosis of senescent erythrocytes (iron recycling). Both SLC11A1 and SLC11A2 play an important role in macrophage iron recycling. SLC11A2 also transports iron into the cytosol across the membrane of endocytotic vesicles of the transferrin receptor-cycle. SLC40A1 is the sole member of the SLC40 family and is involved in the only cellular iron efflux mechanism described. SLC40A1 is highly expressed in several tissues and cells that play a critical role in body iron homeostasis. The signaling pathways that regulate SLC11A2 and SLC40A1 expression at transcriptional, post-transcriptional and post-translational levels are discussed. The roles of SLC11A2 and/or SLC40A1 in iron-associated disorders such as hemochromatosis, neurodegenerative diseases, and breast cancer are also summarized.
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