A research team from UCLA has discovered a new hormone called erythroferrone, which regulates the iron supply needed for red blood-cell production. Iron is an essential functional component of hemoglobin, the molecule that transports oxygen throughout the body. Researchers found that erythroferrone is made by red blood-cell in the bone marrow in order to match iron supply with the demands of red blood-cell production. Erythroferrone is greatly increased when red blood-cell production is stimulated, such as after bleeding or in response to anemia.
The erythroferrone hormone acts by regulating the main iron hormone called Hepcidin. Hepcidin controls the absorption of iron from food and the distribution of iron in the body. Increased erythroferrone suppresses hepcidin and allows more iron to be made available for red blood-cell production. Lack of Iron causes anemia and iron overload accumulates in the liver and organs, where it gets toxic and causes damage.
This discovery could also lead to treatments for other common anemia-related conditions associated with chronic kidney disease, rheumatologic disorders and other inflammatory diseases. In these conditions, iron is "locked up" by the effect of the hormone hepcidin, whose levels are increased by inflammation. Erythroferrone, or drugs acting like it, could suppress hepcidin and make more iron available for red blood-cell production. Studies are being carried out to understand the role of the new hormone in various blood diseases and study the molecular mechanisms through which erythroferrone regulates hepcidin.