The Microbiota Shifts the Iron Sensing of Intestinal Cells

FASEB J. 2016 Jan;30(1):252-61. doi: 10.1096/fj.15-276840. Epub 2015 Sep 14.


The amount of iron in the diet directly influences the composition of the microbiota. Inversely, the effects of the microbiota on iron homeostasis have been little studied. So, we investigate whether the microbiota itself may alter host iron sensing. Duodenal cytochrome b and divalent metal transporter 1, involved in apical iron uptake, are 8- and 10-fold, respectively, more abundant in the duodenum of germ-free (GF) mice than in mice colonized with a microbiota. In contrast, the luminal exporter ferroportin is 2-fold less abundant in GF. The overall signature of microbiota on iron-related proteins is similar in the colon. The colonization does not modify systemic parameters as plasma transferrin saturation (20%), plasma ferritin (150 ng/L), and liver (85 µg/g) iron load. Commensal organisms (Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron VPI-5482 and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii A2-165) and a probiotic strain (Streptococcus thermophilus LMD-9) led to up to 12-fold induction of ferritin in colon. Our data suggest that the intestinal cells of GF mice are depleted of iron and that following colonization, the epithelial cells favor iron storage. This study is the first to demonstrate that gut microbes induce a specific iron-related protein signature, highlighting new aspects of the crosstalk between the microbiota and the intestinal epithelium.

Keywords: ferroportin; iron storage; iron transporters; microbes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colon / microbiology
  • Cytochromes b / genetics
  • Cytochromes b / metabolism
  • Duodenum / metabolism
  • Duodenum / microbiology
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microbiota*


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • metal transporting protein 1
  • Ferritins
  • Cytochromes b
  • Iron