HFE-related hereditary hemochromatosis results in hepatic iron overload. Hepatocytes acquire transferrin-bound iron via transferrin receptor (Tfr) 1 and Tfr1-independent pathways (possibly Tfr2-mediated). In this study, the role of We in the regulation of hepatic transferrin-bound iron uptake by these pathways was investigated using Hfe knockout mice. Iron and transferrin uptake by hepatocytes from Hfe knockout, non-iron-loaded and iron-loaded wild-type mice were measured after incubation with 50 nM I-125-Tf-Fe-59 (Tfr1 pathway) and 5 mu M I-125-Tf-Fe-59 (Tfr1-independent or putative Tfr2 pathway). Tfr1 and Tfr2 messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein expression were measured by real-time polymerase chain reaction and western blotting, respectively. Tfr1-mediated iron and transferrin uptake by Hfe knockout hepatocytes were increased by 40% to 70% compared with iron-loaded wild-type hepatocytes with similar iron levels and Tfr1 expression. Iron and transferrin uptake by the Tfr1-independent pathway was approximately 100-fold greater than by the Tfr1 pathway and was not affected by the absence of Hfe. Diferric transferrin increased hepatocyte Tfr2 protein expression, resulting in a small increase in transferrin but not iron uptake by the Tfr1-independent pathway. Conclusion: Tfr1-mediated iron uptake is regulated by We in hepatocytes. The Tfr1-independent pathway exhibited a much greater capacity for iron uptake than the Tfr1 pathway but it was not regulated by We. Diferric transferrin up-regulated hepatocyte Tfr2 protein expression but not iron uptake, suggesting that Tfr2 may have a limited role in the Tfr1-independent pathway.