Red cells synthesize large amounts of heme during terminal differentiation. Central to this process is the transport and trafficking of heme synthesis intermediates within the cell. Despite the importance of transport during heme synthesis, the molecules involved in this process are largely unknown. In a screen for genes that are upregulated during erythroid terminal differentiation, we identified Tmem14c, a predicted multi-pass transmembrane protein as an essential component of the porphyrin metabolism pathway.

Here, we report that Tmem14c facilitates the synthesis of mitochondrial protoporphyrin IX from coproporphyrinogen III and is thus required for heme synthesis. Tmem14c is a mitochondrial inner-membrane protein enriched in vertebrate hematopoietic tissues and is required for terminal erythropoiesis. Tmem14c gene-trap mouse embryos are severely anemic and mostly die by E13.5 (Fig. A). Fetal liver erythroid cells derived from gene-trap embryos experience maturation arrest. shRNA silencing of Tmem14c in Friend murine erythroleukemia (MEL) cells results in a significant decrease in de-novo heme synthesis. The biochemical defect is due to a decrease in mitochondrial protoporphyrin IX synthesis, while cytoplasmic porphyrin levels remain normal (Fig. B). The heme synthesis defect in Tmem14c-silenced MEL cells is complemented with a protoporphyrin IX analog. These data show the role of Tmem14c in regulating the terminal steps in mitochondrial porphyrin trafficking.

Our findings collectively demonstrate that Tmem14c is required for the transport of mitochondrial porphyrins in developing erythroid cells. Due to its inner-mitochondrial localization and its relative proximity to heme synthetic enzymes coproporphyrinogen oxidase and protoporphyrinogen oxidase (Rhee et al., 2013 Science), Tmem14c can function as a molecular adaptor that facilitates the interaction of proteins involved in porphyrin transport, or as a protoporphyrinogen IX transporter (Fig. C). The identification of Tmem14c as an essential regulator of porphyrin transport and heme synthesis provides a novel genetic tool for exploring erythropoiesis and disorders of heme synthesis such as porphyria and anemia.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.