Transferrin receptor-2 is a transmembrane protein whose expression is restricted to hepatocytes and erythroid cells. Transferrin receptor-2 has a regulatory function in iron homeostasis, since its inactivation causes systemic iron overload. Hepatic transferrin receptor-2 participates in iron sensing and is involved in hepcidin activation, although the mechanism remains unclear. Erythroid transferrin receptor-2 associates with and stabilizes erythropoietin receptors on the erythroblast surface and is essential to control erythrocyte production in iron deficiency. We identified a soluble form of transferrin receptor-2 in the media of transfected cells and showed that cultured human erythroid cells release an endogenous soluble form. Soluble transferrin receptor-2 originates from a cleavage of the cell surface protein, which is inhibited by diferric transferrin in a dose-dependent manner. Accordingly, the shedding of the transferrin receptor-2 variant G679A, mutated in the Arginine-Glycine-Aspartic acid motif and unable to bind diferric transferrin, is not modulated by the ligand. This observation links the process of transferrin receptor-2 removal from the plasma membrane to iron homeostasis. Soluble transferrin receptor-2 does not affect the binding of erythropoietin to erythropoietin receptor or the consequent signaling and partially inhibits hepcidin promoter activation only in vitro. Whether it is a component of the signals released by erythropoiesis in iron deficiency remains to be investigated. Our results indicate that membrane transferrin receptor-2, a sensor of circulating iron, is released from the cell membrane in iron deficiency.
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