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Heme and non-heme iron transporters in non-polarized and polarized cells

Izumi Yanatori1, Mitsuaki Tabuchi1, Yasuhiro Kawai1, Yumiko Yasui1, Reiko Akagi2 and Fumio Kishi1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Genetics, Kawasaki Medical School, Okayama 701-0192, Japan

2 Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Pharmacy, Yasuda Women's University, Hiroshima 731-0153, Japan

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BMC Cell Biology 2010, 11:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-11-39

Published: 4 June 2010



Heme and non-heme iron from diet, and recycled iron from hemoglobin are important products of the synthesis of iron-containing molecules. In excess, iron is potentially toxic because it can produce reactive oxygen species through the Fenton reaction. Humans can absorb, transport, store, and recycle iron without an excretory system to remove excess iron. Two candidate heme transporters and two iron transporters have been reported thus far. Heme incorporated into cells is degraded by heme oxygenases (HOs), and the iron product is reutilized by the body. To specify the processes of heme uptake and degradation, and the reutilization of iron, we determined the subcellular localizations of these transporters and HOs.


In this study, we analyzed the subcellular localizations of 2 isoenzymes of HOs, 4 isoforms of divalent metal transporter 1 (DMT1), and 2 candidate heme transporters--heme carrier protein 1 (HCP1) and heme responsive gene-1 (HRG-1)--in non-polarized and polarized cells. In non-polarized cells, HCP1, HRG-1, and DMT1A-I are located in the plasma membrane. In polarized cells, they show distinct localizations: HCP1 and DMT1A-I are located in the apical membrane, whereas HRG-1 is located in the basolateral membrane and lysosome. 16Leu at DMT1A-I N-terminal cytosolic domain was found to be crucial for plasma membrane localization. HOs are located in smooth endoplasmic reticulum and colocalize with NADPH-cytochrome P450 reductase.


HCP1 and DMT1A-I are localized to the apical membrane, and HRG-1 to the basolateral membrane and lysosome. These findings suggest that HCP1 and DMT1A-I have functions in the uptake of dietary heme and non-heme iron. HRG-1 can transport endocytosed heme from the lysosome into the cytosol. These localization studies support a model in which cytosolic heme can be degraded by HOs, and the resulting iron is exported into tissue fluids via the iron transporter ferroportin 1, which is expressed in the basolateral membrane in enterocytes or in the plasma membrane in macrophages. The liberated iron is transported by transferrin and reutilized for hemoglobin synthesis in the erythroid system.