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Erythrocytic ferroportin reduces intracellular iron accumulation, hemolysis, and malaria risk

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Science  30 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6383, pp. 1520-1523
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal2022

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Iron's grip on malaria

Malaria parasites have coevolved with their human and mammalian hosts. These Plasmodium species invade the iron-rich environment of red blood cells. Zhang et al. found that the iron transporter ferroportin persists on the surface of mature mammalian red blood cells. Red blood cells are at risk of oxidative damage if their hemoglobin releases its iron; ferroportin is thus important to expel this iron. The authors also found that the transporter can deprive malaria parasites of the iron they need for proliferation. The Q248H mutation in the human ferroportin gene enhances ferroportin expression during development and seems to provide protection against malaria. This effect may explain the enrichment of the Q248H mutation among African populations.

Science, this issue p. 1520

Abstract

Malaria parasites invade red blood cells (RBCs), consume copious amounts of hemoglobin, and severely disrupt iron regulation in humans. Anemia often accompanies malaria disease; however, iron supplementation therapy inexplicably exacerbates malarial infections. Here we found that the iron exporter ferroportin (FPN) was highly abundant in RBCs, and iron supplementation suppressed its activity. Conditional deletion of the Fpn gene in erythroid cells resulted in accumulation of excess intracellular iron, cellular damage, hemolysis, and increased fatality in malaria-infected mice. In humans, a prevalent FPN mutation, Q248H (glutamine to histidine at position 248), prevented hepcidin-induced degradation of FPN and protected against severe malaria disease. FPN Q248H appears to have been positively selected in African populations in response to the impact of malaria disease. Thus, FPN protects RBCs against oxidative stress and malaria infection.

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