Bioinformatics; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Immunology; Membrane Transport (Ion Transport); Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular genetics; Neurobiology
The current focus of my lab is on iron metabolism in animals and humans. From the practical viewpoint, iron is an important nutrient, but its ability to act in the ferrous and ferric state also makes it toxic. Thus, iron deficiency is the most frequent disorder in the world and hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is the most common Mendelian disorder in the United States.
Our research is related to erythroid differentiation on the fundamental level and to genetic and acquired diseases on the applied level, with four long-term themes: 1.) analysis of the molecular basis of differential gene expression among tissues and during development, with hemoglobin synthesis and red blood cell (RBC) development as models; 2.) application of molecular and genetic advances to inherited diseases; 3.) iron metabolism; 4.) study of gene variation in populations and divergence of gene loci during evolution.
New vistas have opened recently for the anemia of chronic diseases, leading us to re-exam how microbes and their human hosts fight for iron. We approach these issues by working on rodent models like the Belgrade rat, plus a series of genetically engineered mice.
The rat has a hypochromic, microcytic anemia inherited as an autosomal recessive. The defect is in an iron transporter called DMT1 (or slc11a2, previously called Nramp2 or DCT1) that is responsible for iron uptake by enterocytes and is also responsible for iron exiting endosomes in the transferrin cycle. The rats appear to have a severe iron deficiency, and although dietary iron and iron injection increase the number of RBCs, they do not restore the RBCs nor the rat itself to a normal phenotype.
Recent discoveries show that DMT1 is ubiquitous and responsible for transport of other metals such as Mn and Ni. It occurs in the kidney, brain and lung at even higher levels than in the GI tract or in erythroid cells. It also has multiple isoforms, and we have cloned them and developed cell lines that express high levels of particular isoforms. We have specific antibodies to the isoforms and assays for each of the mRNAs too.
Future projects in my lab will continue to address whether DMT1 is dysregulated in HH. We will also tackle how DMT1 functions in neurons, pneumocytes and other tissues, look at isoforms of DMT1 under circumstances where we suspect that they must have different functions from one another, and examine DMT1’s relevance to iron metabolism and human disease. Because we cloned the gene and identified the mutation, a number of molecular and cellular approaches can now be used. As evidence indicates that metal ion homeostasis fails in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease, research on DMT1 has opened new vistas for these disorders.