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Deficiency in ferrochelatase (FECH), the last enzyme in the heme biosynthetic pathway, leads to an accumulation of protoporphyrin IX (PPIX) that causes a severely painful phototoxic reaction of the skin in patients with erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP). Besides phototoxicity of the skin, EPP patients often present with symptoms of iron deficiency in form of a microcytic and hypochromic anemia with low serum iron and ferritin. In addition, elevated aminolevulinic acid synthase 2 (ALAS2) both at the mRNA and protein levels have been observed among EPP patients. ALAS is the first enzyme in the pathway and exists in two isoforms, whereby the isoform 2 (ALAS2) is expressed exclusively in erythropoiesis. The mRNA of ALAS2 contains an iron response element (IRE) at its 5′UTR. When iron is limited, iron response element binding protein 2 (IRP2) binds to the IRE of ALAS2 mRNA and suppresses its translation. In this study, we demonstrated that iron deprivation increased the amount of ALAS2 mRNA as well as the ratio of ALAS2 to FECH mRNAs in cultured erythroleukemic K562 cells. At the protein level, however, iron deprivation in the cell line caused reductions in both enzymes as shown by the Western blot analysis. A comparable increase in the ratio of ALAS2 to FECH mRNAs was also found in EPP patients indicating an imbalance in heme biosynthesis. As iron cannot be completely missing from an organism, we assume that in EPP patients, a certain amount of ALAS2 mRNA is translated despite a partial deficiency of FECH. The increase in ALAS2 enzyme contributes to the accumulation in PPIX in the patients. Targeted inhibition of ALAS2 could therefore be a treatment option for EPP.

Original publication




Journal article


Molecular Genetics and Metabolism

Publication Date





304 - 308