Transferrin, the major plasma iron-binding molecule, interacts with cell-surface receptors to deliver iron, modulates hepcidin expression, and regulates erythropoiesis. Transferrin binds and releases iron via either or both of 2 homologous lobes (N and C). To test the hypothesis that the specificity of iron occupancy in the N vs C lobe influences transferrin function, we generated mice with mutations to abrogate iron binding in either lobe (TfN-bl or TfC-bl). Mice homozygous for either mutation had hepatocellular iron loading and decreased liver hepcidin expression (relative to iron concentration), although to different magnitudes. Both mouse models demonstrated some aspects of iron-restricted erythropoiesis, including increased zinc protoporphyrin levels, decreased hemoglobin levels, and microcytosis. Moreover, the TfN-bl/N-bl mice demonstrated the anticipated effect of iron restriction on red cell production (ie, no increase in red blood cell [RBC] count despite elevated erythropoietin levels), along with a poor response to exogenous erythropoietin. In contrast, the TfC-bl/C-bl mice had elevated RBC counts and an exaggerated response to exogenous erythropoietin sufficient to ameliorate the anemia. Observations in heterozygous mice further support a role for relative N vs C lobe iron occupancy in transferrin-mediated regulation of iron homeostasis and erythropoiesis.
© 2019 by The American Society of Hematology.