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Researchers Identify Hormone That Controls Supply of Iron In Red Blood Cell Production

Update Date: Jun 02, 2014 10:34 AM EDT

A team of researchers at UCLA has discovered a new hormone that 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 the newly discovered hormone, dubbed erythroferrone, is made by red blood-cell progenitors in the bone marrow in order to match iron supply with he demand of red blood-cell production. The hormone is significantly increased when red blood-cell production is stimulated. 

"If there is too little iron, it causes anemia. If there is too much iron, the iron overload accumulates in the liver and organs, where it is toxic and causes damage," said senior author Dr. Tomas Ganz, a professor of medicine and pathology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in the press release. "Modulating the activity of erythroferrone could be a viable strategy for the treatment of iron disorders of both overabundance and scarcity."

"Our previous work anticipated that a regulator of hepcidin could be secreted by the bone marrow," said the study's first author, Leon Kautz, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA. "In this research, we searched for new substances that were made in bone marrow that could fill that role."

Initially researchers focused on the happenings in the bone marrow after hemorrhage. From there, they concentrated on a specific protein that was secreted into the blood. The protein was significant because it belonged to a family of proteins involved in cell-to-cell communication. 

Researchers added that the discovery could lead to new treatments for blood disorders  associated with both iron deficiencies and overloads. 

"Overproduction of erythroferrone may be a major cause of iron overload in untransfused patients and may contribute to iron overload in transfused patients," said study author Elizabeta Nemeth, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the UCLA Center for Iron Disorders. "The identification of erythroferrone can potentially allow researchers and drug developers to target the hormone for specific treatment to prevent iron overload in Cooley's anemia."

The findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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