Background/Aims: The molecular defect of genetic hemochromatosis (GH) is unknown. It is believed that low expression of duodenal ferritin in GH is caused by tissue or cell specific defect of ferritin synthesis. Our study was designed to ascertain whether the control of duodenal ferritin synthesis in GH was defective. Methods: Expression at the single cell level of H and L ferritin messenger RNAs and protein and activity of the iron regulatory factor, which controls the translation of ferritin messenger RNA, were assessed in 43 duodenal biopsy specimens from individuals with GH, secondary hemochromatosis (SH), anemia, or normal iron balance. Results: Signal for ferritin H and L subunit messenger RNAs was detected in both absorptive and nonabsorptive cells by in situ hybridization, but in 10 of 14 patients with untreated GH, the signal was lower than in patients with SH or normal subjects. However, immunostaining for ferritin protein documented a diffuse/cytoplasmic pattern, whereas a supranuclear/granular staining was found in normal subjects or patients with SH. The spontaneous activity of duodenal iron regulatory factor was consistently higher in patients with GH than in normal subjects or subjects with anemia or SH. Conclusions: In patients with GH, ferritin gene transcription is preserved in both absorptive and nonabsorptive intestinal cells. Low accumulation of ferritin is not caused by a defective control of ferritin synthesis but by low expression of ferritin messenger RNA and sustained activity of iron regulatory factor.
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