BACKGROUND--Previous in vitro studies have shown that the uptake of Fe(III) by freshly isolated duodenal mucosal biopsy specimens is increased in patients with genetic haemochromatosis. Moreover, in the mouse it has recently been found that reduction of Fe(III) to Fe(II) is a prerequisite for iron uptake by the proximal intestine. AIMS/METHODS--This study used the in vitro technique to investigate the rates of reduction and uptake of 59Fe(III) by duodenal mucosal biopsy specimens obtained at endoscopy from treated and untreated patients with genetic haemochromatosis. RESULTS--The rate of reduction of iron in the medium was proportional to the incubation time and was not caused by the release of reducing factors from the tissue fragments. Ferrozine, a specific Fe(II) chelator and ferricyanide, a non-permeable oxidising agent, inhibited uptake of 59Fe showing that reduction of Fe(III) precedes uptake. The rates (all values given as pmol/mg/min) of reduction (152 (49) v 92 (23)) and uptake (8.3 (4.0) v 3.6 (1.3), mean (SD)), were significantly increased in biopsy specimens from the untreated group (n = 6) compared with those from 10 control subjects (p < 0.04). Furthermore, the reduction and uptake rates were still increased in five patients in whom iron stores were normal after venesection treatment. CONCLUSIONS--These results show that there is a persistent abnormality in the reduction and uptake of iron by the intestine in genetic haemochromatosis.
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