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Endothelial cells produce bone morphogenetic protein 6 required for iron homeostasis in mice

Susanna Canali, Kimberly B. Zumbrennen-Bullough, Amanda B. Core, Chia-Yu Wang, Manfred Nairz, Richard Bouley, Filip K. Swirski and Jodie L. Babitt

Key Points

  • Endothelial Bmp6 conditional knockout mice exhibit hemochromatosis, whereas hepatocyte and macrophage Bmp6 conditional knockout mice do not.

  • Our data support a model in which EC Bmp6 has paracrine actions on hepatocyte hemojuvelin to regulate hepcidin production.

Publisher's Note: There is an Inside Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.

Abstract

Bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6) signaling in hepatocytes is a central transcriptional regulator of the iron hormone hepcidin that controls systemic iron balance. How iron levels are sensed to regulate hepcidin production is not known, but local induction of liver BMP6 expression by iron is proposed to have a critical role. To identify the cellular source of BMP6 responsible for hepcidin and iron homeostasis regulation, we generated mice with tissue-specific ablation of Bmp6 in different liver cell populations and evaluated their iron phenotype. Efficiency and specificity of Cre-mediated recombination was assessed by using Cre-reporter mice, polymerase chain reaction of genomic DNA, and quantitation of Bmp6 messenger RNA expression from isolated liver cell populations. Localization of the BMP co-receptor hemojuvelin was visualized by immunofluorescence microscopy. Analysis of the Bmp6 conditional knockout mice revealed that liver endothelial cells (ECs) expressed Bmp6, whereas resident liver macrophages (Kupffer cells) and hepatocytes did not. Loss of Bmp6 in ECs recapitulated the hemochromatosis phenotype of global Bmp6 knockout mice, whereas hepatocyte and macrophage Bmp6 conditional knockout mice exhibited no iron phenotype. Hemojuvelin was localized on the hepatocyte sinusoidal membrane immediately adjacent to Bmp6-producing sinusoidal ECs. Together, these data demonstrate that ECs are the predominant source of BMP6 in the liver and support a model in which EC BMP6 has paracrine actions on hepatocyte hemojuvelin to regulate hepcidin transcription and maintain systemic iron homeostasis.

  • Submitted June 8, 2016.
  • Accepted November 14, 2016.
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