Hepcidin, a peptide hormone that negatively regulates iron metabolism, is expressed by bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling. Erythroferrone (ERFE) is an extracellular protein that binds and inhibits BMP ligands, thus positively regulating iron import by indirectly suppressing hepcidin. This allows for rapid erythrocyte regeneration after blood loss. ERFE belongs to the C1Q/TNF related protein (CTRP) family and is suggested to adopt multiple oligomeric forms: a trimer, a hexamer, and a high molecular weight species. The molecular basis for how ERFE binds BMP ligands and how the different oligomeric states impact BMP inhibition are poorly understood. In this study, we demonstrated that ERFE activity is dependent on the presence of stable dimeric or trimeric ERFE, and that larger species are dispensable for BMP inhibition. Additionally, we used an in-silico approach to identify a helix, termed the ligand binding domain (LBD), that was predicted to bind BMPs and occlude the type I receptor pocket. We provide evidence that the LBD is crucial for activity through luciferase assays and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) analysis. Our findings provide new insight into how ERFE oligomerization impacts BMP inhibition, while identifying critical molecular features of ERFE essential for binding BMP ligands.

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