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Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions     A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®


Reviewed July 2009

What is the official name of the HFE gene?

The official name of this gene is “hemochromatosis.”

HFE is the gene's official symbol. The HFE gene is also known by other names, listed below.

What is the normal function of the HFE gene?

The HFE gene provides instructions for producing a protein that is located on the surface of cells, primarily liver and intestinal cells. The HFE protein is also found on some immune system cells.

The HFE protein interacts with other proteins on the cell surface to detect the amount of iron in the body. The HFE protein regulates the production of another protein called hepcidin, which is considered the "master" iron regulatory hormone. Hepcidin is produced by the liver, and it determines how much iron is absorbed from the diet and released from storage sites in the body. When the proteins involved in iron sensing and absorption are functioning properly, iron absorption is tightly regulated. On average, the body absorbs about 10 percent of the iron obtained from the diet.

The HFE protein also interacts with two proteins called transferrin receptors; however, the role of these interactions in iron regulation is unclear.

Does the HFE gene share characteristics with other genes?

The HFE gene belongs to a family of genes called immunoglobulin superfamily, C1-set domain containing (immunoglobulin superfamily, C1-set domain containing).

A gene family is a group of genes that share important characteristics. Classifying individual genes into families helps researchers describe how genes are related to each other. For more information, see What are gene families? ( in the Handbook.

How are changes in the HFE gene related to health conditions?

hereditary hemochromatosis - caused by mutations in the HFE gene

Researchers have identified more than 20 mutations in the HFE gene that cause a form of hereditary hemochromatosis called type 1. Two particular mutations are responsible for most cases of this disorder. Each of these mutations changes one of the protein building blocks (amino acids) in the HFE protein. One mutation replaces the amino acid cysteine with the amino acid tyrosine at position 282 in the protein's chain of amino acids (written as Cys282Tyr or C282Y). The other mutation replaces the amino acid histidine with the amino acid aspartic acid at position 63 (written as His63Asp or H63D).

The Cys282Tyr mutation prevents the altered HFE protein from reaching the cell surface, so it cannot interact with hepcidin and transferrin receptors. As a result, iron regulation is disrupted, and too much iron is absorbed from the diet. This increase in the absorption of dietary iron leads to the iron overload characteristic of type 1 hemochromatosis.

porphyria - increased risk from variations of the HFE gene

Mutations in the HFE gene that cause hereditary hemochromatosis also increase the risk of developing the most common form of porphyria, porphyria cutanea tarda. These mutations are found more frequently in people with porphyria cutanea tarda than in unaffected people.

Researchers suspect that HFE gene mutations may trigger this type of porphyria by increasing the absorption of iron. A buildup of excess iron, in combination with other genetic and nongenetic factors, interferes with the production of a molecule called heme. Heme is a component of iron-containing proteins called hemoproteins, including hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen in the blood). A blockage in heme production allows other compounds called porphyrins to build up to toxic levels in the liver and other organs. These compounds are formed during the normal process of heme production, but excess iron and other factors allow them to accumulate to toxic levels. The abnormal buildup of porphyrins leads to the characteristic features of porphyria cutanea tarda.

X-linked sideroblastic anemia - course of condition modified by mutations in the HFE gene

The Cys282Tyr mutation, which is a common cause of hereditary hemochromatosis, may also increase the severity of the iron overload in X-linked sideroblastic anemia when it is inherited with a mutation in the ALAS2 gene. The combination of HFE and ALAS2 mutations leads to more severe signs and symptoms of X-linked sideroblastic anemia by further increasing the absorption of dietary iron, leading to an even greater iron overload.

Where is the HFE gene located?

Cytogenetic Location: 6p21.3

Molecular Location on chromosome 6: base pairs 26,087,281 to 26,096,117

(Homo sapiens Annotation Release 107, GRCh38.p2) (NCBI (

The HFE gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 6 at position 21.3.

The HFE gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 6 at position 21.3.

More precisely, the HFE gene is located from base pair 26,087,281 to base pair 26,096,117 on chromosome 6.

See How do geneticists indicate the location of a gene? ( in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about HFE?

You and your healthcare professional may find the following resources about HFE helpful.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for genetics professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for the HFE gene or gene products?

  • hemochromatosis, genetic; GH
  • Hemochromatosis, Hereditary; HH
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis protein
  • HLA-H antigen

See How are genetic conditions and genes named? ( in the Handbook.

What glossary definitions help with understanding HFE?

acids ; amino acid ; anemia ; aspartic acid ; cell ; cysteine ; gene ; GH ; heme ; hemoglobin ; hereditary ; histidine ; HLA ; hormone ; immune system ; inherited ; iron ; molecule ; mutation ; oxygen ; protein ; toxic ; transferrin ; tyrosine

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.


  • Andrews NC. Molecular control of iron metabolism. Best Pract Res Clin Haematol. 2005 Jun;18(2):159-69. Review. (
  • Camaschella C, Roetto A, De Gobbi M. Genetic haemochromatosis: genes and mutations associated with iron loading. Best Pract Res Clin Haematol. 2002 Jun;15(2):261-76. Review. (
  • Deicher R, Hörl WH. New insights into the regulation of iron homeostasis. Eur J Clin Invest. 2006 May;36(5):301-9. Review. (
  • Egger NG, Goeger DE, Payne DA, Miskovsky EP, Weinman SA, Anderson KE. Porphyria cutanea tarda: multiplicity of risk factors including HFE mutations, hepatitis C, and inherited uroporphyrinogen decarboxylase deficiency. Dig Dis Sci. 2002 Feb;47(2):419-26. (
  • Fleming RE, Britton RS, Waheed A, Sly WS, Bacon BR. Pathogenesis of hereditary hemochromatosis. Clin Liver Dis. 2004 Nov;8(4):755-73, vii. Review. (
  • Fleming RE, Britton RS. Iron Imports. VI. HFE and regulation of intestinal iron absorption. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2006 Apr;290(4):G590-4. Review. (
  • Fleming RE. Advances in understanding the molecular basis for the regulation of dietary iron absorption. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2005 Mar;21(2):201-6. Review. (
  • Fleming RE. Iron sensing as a partnership: HFE and transferrin receptor 2. Cell Metab. 2009 Mar;9(3):211-2. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2009.02.004. (
  • Ganz T. Iron homeostasis: fitting the puzzle pieces together. Cell Metab. 2008 Apr;7(4):288-90. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2008.03.008. Review. (
  • Kelleher T, Ryan E, Barrett S, Sweeney M, Byrnes V, O'Keane C, Crowe J. Increased DMT1 but not IREG1 or HFE mRNA following iron depletion therapy in hereditary haemochromatosis. Gut. 2004 Aug;53(8):1174-9. (
  • Kowdley KV. Iron, hemochromatosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Gastroenterology. 2004 Nov;127(5 Suppl 1):S79-86. Review. (
  • McGregor J, McKie AT, Simpson RJ. Of mice and men: genetic determinants of iron status. Proc Nutr Soc. 2004 Feb;63(1):11-20. (
  • NCBI Gene (
  • Nemeth E, Ganz T. Regulation of iron metabolism by hepcidin. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:323-42. Review. (
  • Phillips JD, Bergonia HA, Reilly CA, Franklin MR, Kushner JP. A porphomethene inhibitor of uroporphyrinogen decarboxylase causes porphyria cutanea tarda. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Mar 20;104(12):5079-84. Epub 2007 Mar 9. (
  • Pietrangelo A. Hereditary hemochromatosis. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:251-70. Review. (
  • Pietrangelo A. Hereditary hemochromatosis--a new look at an old disease. N Engl J Med. 2004 Jun 3;350(23):2383-97. Review. (
  • Sebastiani G, Walker AP. HFE gene in primary and secondary hepatic iron overload. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Sep 21;13(35):4673-89. Review. (
  • Zaahl MG, Merryweather-Clarke AT, Kotze MJ, van der Merwe S, Warnich L, Robson KJ. Analysis of genes implicated in iron regulation in individuals presenting with primary iron overload. Hum Genet. 2004 Oct;115(5):409-17. Epub 2004 Aug 24. (


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Reviewed: July 2009
Published: February 8, 2016