Magazine article Science News

A Protein That Helps the Body Pump Iron

Magazine article Science News

A Protein That Helps the Body Pump Iron

Article excerpt

To the human body, iron is a metal more precious than gold. Among its vital roles, iron helps form oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecules in the blood. More than a billion people worldwide suffer from anemia because they have too little iron in their diet. Even in the United States, I woman in 10 is anemic.

Despite the metal's importance, scientists have had few clues as to how the body snares iron from food and transfers it into cells.

"The molecular details of iron absorption have eluded investigators for half a century. There have been many reports about one molecule or another serving as an iron transporter, none of which have withstood scrutiny and time," says Philip Aisen of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Now, two research groups have independently homed in on a protein that seems to be the long-sought treasure.

"It looks like this protein is the major iron transporter, both in the intestine and other tissues," says Nancy C. Andrews of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Children's Hospital in Boston.

Andrews and her colleagues, who present their work in the August Nature Genetics, studied mice with a hereditary form of anemia and found that the disorder stemmed from a mutation in a previously known gene called Nramp2.

A second line of evidence implicating the gene, presented by a research team led by Matthias A. Hediger of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, appears in the July 31 Nature.

These investigators fed rats an iron-poor diet, hoping the animals would compensate by increasing their production of iron transporter proteins. …

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