Iron homeostasis is tightly regulated by the membrane iron exporter ferroportin and its regulatory peptide hormone hepcidin. The hepcidin/ferroportin axis is considered a promising therapeutic target for the treatment of diseases of iron overload or deficiency. Here, we conducted a chemical screen in zebrafish to identify small molecules that decrease ferroportin protein levels. The chemical screen led to the identification of 3 steroid molecules, epitiostanol, progesterone, and mifepristone, which decrease ferroportin levels by increasing the biosynthesis of hepcidin. These hepcidin-inducing steroids (HISs) did not activate known hepcidin-inducing pathways, including the BMP and JAK/STAT3 pathways. Progesterone receptor membrane component-1 (PGRMC1) was required for HIS-dependent increases in hepcidin biosynthesis, as PGRMC1 depletion in cultured hepatoma cells and zebrafish blocked the ability of HISs to increase hepcidin mRNA levels. Neutralizing antibodies directed against PGRMC1 attenuated the ability of HISs to induce hepcidin gene expression. Inhibiting the kinases of the SRC family, which are downstream of PGRMC1, blocked the ability of HISs to increase hepcidin mRNA levels. Furthermore, HIS treatment increased hepcidin biosynthesis in mice and humans. Together, these data indicate that PGRMC1 regulates hepcidin gene expression through an evolutionarily conserved mechanism. These studies have identified drug candidates and potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of diseases of abnormal iron metabolism.
Xiang Li, David K. Rhee, Rajeev Malhotra, Claire Mayeur, Liam A. Hurst, Emily Ager, Georgia Shelton, Yael Kramer, David McCulloh, David Keefe, Kenneth D. Bloch, Donald B. Bloch, Randall T. Peterson