BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A protein that is the single most critical known element in iron metabolism has been identified and characterized by scientists at the University at Buffalo and Children's Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard University.
The first protein to be identified as essential for normal intestinal iron absorption and the first mammalian iron transporter to be characterized at the molecular level, it appears to be involved in not just one, but several, critical roles in iron metabolism.
The results will be published in the Feb. 3 issue (Vol. 95, Issue 3) of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This finding allows us to take a major step forward in our understanding of iron metabolism," said Michael Garrick, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and biochemistry at UB and co-author on the paper.
The discovery of the protein, called Nramp2, will allow researchers to boost their understanding of iron-deficiency anemia, the most prevalent disease in the world, especially common in underdeveloped countries.
It also will provide them with necessary information about ways to treat hemochromatosis, or iron overload, the most common recessively inherited disease, for which the usual treatment is the periodic bleeding of patients.
Other UB co-authors are Laura M. Garrick, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of biochemistry, and Michelle A. Romano, research technician. Children's Hospital co-authors are Nancy C. Andrews, M.D., Ph.D.; Mark Fleming, M.D., D.Sc., and Maureen A. Su, M.D.-Ph.D. candidate.
The research highlights what the scientists describe as a stunning example of biological conservatism, where the same amino-acid change in the same gene in the same protein is responsible for iron-deficiency anemia in two different animal models.