Coordinate expression of heme and globin is essential for effective erythropoiesis

J Clin Invest. 2015 Dec;125(12):4681-91. doi: 10.1172/JCI83054. Epub 2015 Nov 9.


Erythropoiesis requires rapid and extensive hemoglobin production. Heme activates globin transcription and translation; therefore, heme synthesis must precede globin synthesis. As free heme is a potent inducer of oxidative damage, its levels within cellular compartments require stringent regulation. Mice lacking the heme exporter FLVCR1 have a severe macrocytic anemia; however, the mechanisms that underlie erythropoiesis dysfunction in these animals are unclear. Here, we determined that erythropoiesis failure occurs in these animals at the CFU-E/proerythroblast stage, a point at which the transferrin receptor (CD71) is upregulated, iron is imported, and heme is synthesized--before ample globin is produced. From the CFU-E/proerythroblast (CD71(+) Ter119(-) cells) stage onward, erythroid progenitors exhibited excess heme content, increased cytoplasmic ROS, and increased apoptosis. Reducing heme synthesis in FLVCR1-defient animals via genetic and biochemical approaches improved the anemia, implying that heme excess causes, and is not just associated with, the erythroid marrow failure. Expression of the cell surface FLVCR1 isoform, but not the mitochondrial FLVCR1 isoform, restored normal rbc production, demonstrating that cellular heme export is essential. Together, these studies provide insight into how heme is regulated to allow effective erythropoiesis, show that erythropoiesis fails when heme is excessive, and emphasize the importance of evaluating Ter119(-) erythroid cells when studying erythroid marrow failure in murine models.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Erythroblasts / cytology
  • Erythroblasts / metabolism*
  • Erythropoiesis / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Globins / biosynthesis*
  • Globins / genetics
  • Heme / biosynthesis*
  • Heme / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Receptors, Transferrin / genetics
  • Receptors, Transferrin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Virus / genetics
  • Receptors, Virus / metabolism


  • Antigens, CD
  • CD71 antigen
  • Flvcr1 protein, mouse
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Receptors, Virus
  • Heme
  • Globins