A possible role for hepcidin in the detection of iron deficiency in severely anaemic HIV-infected patients in Malawi



Iron deficiency is a treatable cause of severe anaemia in low-and-middle-income-countries (LMIC). Diagnosing it remains challenging as peripheral blood markers poorly reflect bone-marrow iron deficiency (BM-ID), especially in the context of HIV-infection.


Severely anaemic (haemoglobin ?70g/l) HIV-infected adults were recruited at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre, Malawi. BM-ID was evaluated. Accuracy of blood markers (including hepcidin, mean corpuscular volume, mean cellular haemoglobin concentration, serum iron, serum ferritin, soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR), sTfR index, sTfR-ratio) to detect BM-ID was evaluated by ROC area under the curve (AUCROC).


Seventy-three patients were enrolled and 35 (48.0%) had BM-ID. Although hepcidin and MCV performed best (AUCROC of 0.593 and 0.545 respectively) all markers performed poorly in identifying BM-ID (ROC<0.6). The AUCROC of hepcidin in males was 0.767 (sensitivity 80%, specificity 78%) and in women 0.490 (sensitivity 60%, specificity 61%).


BM-ID deficiency was common in severely anaemic HIV-infected patients. It is an important and potential treatable contributor to severe anaemia but lack of definitive biomarkers makes it difficult to accurately assess iron status in these patients. Further investigation of the potential of hepcidin is needed, including exploration of the differences in hepcidin results between males and females.

Authors: Hulbers MHW, Calis JC, Allain TJ, Coupland SE, Phiri C, Phiri KS, Swinkels DW, Boele van Hensbroek M, Bates I
; Full Source: PLoS One. 2020 Feb 27;15(2):e0218694. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218694. eCollection 2020