Dietary hemoglobin rescues young piglets from severe iron deficiency anemia: Duodenal expression profile of genes involved in heme iron absorption

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 13;12(7):e0181117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181117. eCollection 2017.


Heme is an efficient source of iron in the diet, and heme preparations are used to prevent and cure iron deficiency anemia in humans and animals. However, the molecular mechanisms responsible for heme absorption remain only partially characterized. Here, we employed young iron-deficient piglets as a convenient animal model to determine the efficacy of oral heme iron supplementation and investigate the pathways of heme iron absorption. The use of bovine hemoglobin as a dietary source of heme iron was found to efficiently counteract the development of iron deficiency anemia in piglets, although it did not fully rebalance their iron status. Our results revealed a concerted increase in the expression of genes responsible for apical and basolateral heme transport in the duodenum of piglets fed a heme-enriched diet. In these animals the catalytic activity of heme oxygenase 1 contributed to the release of elemental iron from the protoporphyrin ring of heme within enterocytes, which may then be transported by the strongly expressed ferroportin across the basolateral membrane to the circulation. We hypothesize that the well-recognized high bioavailability of heme iron may depend on a split pathway mediating the transport of heme-derived elemental iron and intact heme from the interior of duodenal enterocytes to the bloodstream.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / diet therapy*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / genetics
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Duodenum / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / drug effects
  • Heme / administration & dosage*
  • Heme / therapeutic use
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / chemistry
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Swine


  • Heme
  • Heme Oxygenase-1