Hepatic hypoxia-inducible factor-2 down-regulates hepcidin expression in mice through an erythropoietin-mediated increase in erythropoiesis
Iron metabolism, regulated by the iron hormone hepcidin, and oxygen homeostasis, dependent on hypoxia-inducible factors, are strongly interconnected. We previously reported that in mice in which both liver hypoxia-inducible factors-1 and -2 are stabilized (the hepatocyte von Hippel-Lindau knockout mouse model), hepcidin expression was strongly repressed and we hypothesized that hypoxia-inducible factor-2 could be the major regulatory component contributing to the hepcidin down-regulation. We generated and analyzed hepatocyte-specific knockout mice harboring either hypoxia-inducible factor-2α deficiency (Hif2a knockout) or constitutive hypoxia-inducible factor-2α stabilization (Vhlh/Hif1a knockout) and ex vivo systems (primary hepatocyte cultures). Hif2a knockout mice were fed an iron-deficient diet for 2 months and Vhlh/Hif1a knockout mice were treated with neutralizing erythropoietin antibody. We demonstrated that hypoxia-inducible factor-2 is dispensable in hepcidin gene regulation in the context of an adaptive response to iron-deficiency anemia. However, its overexpression in the double Vhlh/Hif1a hepatocyte-specific knockout mice indirectly down-regulates hepcidin expression through increased erythropoiesis and erythropoietin production. Experiments in primary hepatocytes confirmed the non-autonomous role of hypoxia-inducible factor-2 in hepcidin regulation. While our results indicate that hypoxia-inducible factor-2 is not directly involved in hepcidin repression, they highlight the contribution of hepatic hypoxia-inducible factor-2 to the repression of hepcidin through erythropoietin-mediated increased erythropoiesis, a result of potential clinical interest.