Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, Virginia recently discovered the mechanism of action behind the body’s ability to produce oxygen-carrying red blood cells. This discovery could help millions of people who experience weakness, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate due to iron-restricted anemias – conditions that impair red blood cell production – and may lead to better treatments for anemia.
Two key components were involved in this research. Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, directed by a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). First, the researchers discovered that some bone marrow cells have EPO stored inside, rather than outside the cells, where it is needed to stimulate red blood cell production. Second, they discovered that anemic red blood cells – cells with low levels of iron – are missing a certain protein that determines whether the EPO receptor is inside the bone marrow cell or outside – where it is needed.
These findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.