Systemic iron levels are tightly controlled by the hepatic hormone hepcidin in response to iron availability, inflammation, hypoxia or the iron demand for erythropoiesis. Hepcidin binds to the iron export protein ferroportin (FPN1) to regulate iron release from exporting cells. A mutation of cysteine 326 (C326S) of FPN1 was reported in a patient with non−classical ferroportin disease (Sham et al, 2005) and shown to abrogate hepcidin binding in vitro (Fernandes et al, 2009).

To study consequences of the disruption of the hepcidin−ferroportin interaction in vivo, we generated the first knock−in mouse model of C326S non−classical ferroportin disease.

Mice with either heterozygous or homozygous C326S FPN alleles are viable and fertile. At 8−weeks of age both heterozygous and homozygous mice show profoundly increased transferrin saturation and serum ferritin levels as well as hepatic iron overload. Histological analysis by Perl’s Prussian blue staining revealed that hepatic iron accumulation is restricted to hepatocytes and that Kupffer cells are spared of iron. In addition, splenic macrophages and duodenal enterocytes are iron−depleted.

Macroscopically, C326S homozygous mice show progressive, brown discoloration of the pancreas that correlates with profound iron deposition. Histological analysis reveals that iron localizes exclusively to the exocrine pancreas sparing the islets of Langerhans. Consistently, C326S homozygous mice do not show any signs of diabetes. Pancreatic iron accumulation is closely associated with increased reactive oxygen species (ROS), degeneration of exocrine pancreatic cells, increased plasma lipase and exocrine pancreatic failure. Starting at the age of 33 weeks, pancreatic failure is accompanied by progressive wasting and death. We believe that C326S FPN mice represent the first example of fatal iron overload in an animal model, opening avenues to investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms.

Sham R, Phatak PD, West C, et al. Autosomal dominant hereditary hemochromatosis associated with a novel ferroportin mutation and unique clinical features. Blood Cells Mol. Dis. 2005; 34:157−61.

Fernandes A, Preza GC, Phung Y, et al. The molecular basis of hepcidin−resistant hereditary hemochromatosis. Blood. 2009;114:437−443.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.