Smad1/5 is required for erythropoietin-mediated suppression of hepcidin in mice

Chia-Yu Wang, Amanda B. Core, Susanna Canali, Kimberly B. Zumbrennen-Bullough, Sinan Ozer, Lieve Umans, An Zwijsen and Jodie L. Babitt

Key Points

  • The presence of Smad1 or Smad5 in hepatocytes is sufficient to maintain iron homeostasis, whereas deficiency of both induces iron overload.

  • Erythropoietin and erythroferrone fail to suppress hepcidin in mice with a conditional ablation of Smad1 and Smad5 in hepatocytes.

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


Anemia suppresses liver hepcidin expression to supply adequate iron for erythropoiesis. Erythroferrone mediates hepcidin suppression by anemia, but its mechanism of action remains uncertain. The bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)–SMAD signaling pathway has a central role in hepcidin transcriptional regulation. Here, we explored the contribution of individual receptor-activated SMADs in hepcidin regulation and their involvement in erythroferrone suppression of hepcidin. In Hep3B cells, SMAD5 or SMAD1 but not SMAD8, knockdown inhibited hepcidin (HAMP) messenger RNA (mRNA) expression. Hepatocyte-specific double-knockout Smad1fl/fl;Smad5fl/fl;Cre+ mice exhibited ∼90% transferrin saturation and massive liver iron overload, whereas Smad1fl/fl;Smad5fl/wt;Cre+ mice or Smad1fl/wt;Smad5fl/fl;Cre+ female mice with 1 functional Smad5 or Smad1 allele had modestly increased serum and liver iron, and single-knockout Smad5fl/fl;Cre+ or Smad1fl/fl;Cre+ mice had minimal to no iron loading, suggesting a gene dosage effect. Hamp mRNA was reduced in all Cre+ mouse livers at 12 days and in all Cre+ primary hepatocytes. However, only double-knockout mice continued to exhibit low liver Hamp at 8 weeks and failed to induce Hamp in response to Bmp6 in primary hepatocyte cultures. Epoetin alfa (EPO) robustly induced bone marrow erythroferrone (Fam132b) mRNA in control and Smad1fl/fl;Smad5fl/fl;Cre+ mice but suppressed hepcidin only in control mice. Likewise, erythroferrone failed to decrease Hamp mRNA in Smad1fl/fl;Smad5fl/fl;Cre+ primary hepatocytes and SMAD1/SMAD5 knockdown Hep3B cells. EPO and erythroferrone reduced liver Smad1/5 phosphorylation in parallel with Hamp mRNA in control mice and Hep3B cells. Thus, Smad1 and Smad5 have overlapping functions to govern hepcidin transcription. Moreover, erythropoietin and erythroferrone target Smad1/5 signaling and require Smad1/5 to suppress hepcidin expression.

  • Submitted December 23, 2016.
  • Accepted April 18, 2017.
View Full Text