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Abstract

Hereditary hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder occurring in persons of northern European descent, and the clinical hallmark of the disease is the gradual accumulation of iron in internal organs, especially the liver, heart, and pancreas, which ultimately leads to organ failure. HFE, the gene that is defective in the majority of cases, was identified in 1996 and, although the exact role that HFE plays in the uptake and utilization of iron is not yet clear, important aspects of HFE function are emerging. Identification and studies of new proteins involved in the absorption of iron in the gut and in somatic cells has led to a clearer picture of how humans absorb iron from the diet and regulate this absorption to meet metabolic needs and to balance body iron stores. This review focuses on the molecular aspects of iron absorption and the role that HFE may play in these processes.