Expert Reviews in Molecular Medicine

Review Article

Molecular basis of iron-loading disorders

Deepak Darshana1, David M. Frazera1 and Gregory J. Andersona1 c1

a1 Iron Metabolism Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


Iron-loading disorders (haemochromatosis) represent an important class of human diseases. Primary iron loading results from inherited disturbances in the mechanisms regulating intestinal iron absorption, such that excess iron is taken up from the diet. Body iron load can also be increased by repeated blood transfusions (secondary iron loading), usually as part of the treatment for various haematological disorders. In these syndromes, an element of enhanced iron absorption is also often involved. The central regulator of body iron trafficking is the liver-derived peptide hepcidin. Hepcidin limits iron entry into the plasma from macrophages, intestinal enterocytes and other cells by binding to the sole iron-export protein ferroportin, and facilitating its removal from the plasma membrane. Mutations in hepcidin or its upstream regulators (HFE, TFR2, HFE2 and BMP6) lead to reduced or absent hepcidin expression and a concomitant increase in iron absorption. Mutations in ferroportin that prevent hepcidin binding produce a similar result. Increased ineffective erythropoiesis, which often characterises erythrocyte disorders, also leads to reduced hepcidin expression and increased absorption. Recent advances in our understanding of hepcidin and body iron homeostasis provide the potential for a range of new diagnostic and therapeutic tools for haemochromatosis and related conditions.


c1 Corresponding author: Gregory J. Anderson, Iron Metabolism Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Royal Brisbane Hospital, Brisbane, Queensland 4029, Australia. E-mail: