Hepcidin regulation in Kenyan children with severe malaria and non-typhoidal Salmonella bacteremia
Malaria and invasive non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) are life-threatening infections that often co-exist in African children. The iron-regulatory hormone hepcidin is highly upregulated during malaria and controls the availability of iron, a critical nutrient for bacterial growth. We investigated the relationship between Plasmodium falciparum malaria and NTS bacteremia in all pediatric admissions aged <5 years between August 1998 and October 2019 (n=75,034). We then assayed hepcidin and measures of iron status in five groups: (1) children with concomitant severe malarial anemia (SMA) and NTS (SMA+NTS, n=16); and in matched children with (2) SMA (n=33); (3) NTS (n=33); (4) cerebral malaria (CM, n=34); and (5) community-based children. SMA and severe anemia without malaria were associated with a 2-fold or more increased risk of NTS bacteremia, while other malaria phenotypes were not associated with increased NTS risk. Children with SMA had lower hepcidin/ferritin ratios (0.10; interquartile range [IQR]: 0.03-0.19) than those with CM (0.24; IQR: 0.14-0.69; P=0.006) or asymptomatic malaria (0.19; IQR: 0.09-0.46; P=0.01) indicating suppressed hepcidin levels. Children with SMA+NTS had lower hepcidin levels (9.3 ng/mL; IQR: 4.7-49.8) and hepcidin/ferritin ratios (0.03; IQR: 0.01-0.22) than those with NTS alone (105.8 ng/mL; IQR: 17.3-233.3; P=0.02 and 0.31; IQR: 0.06-0.66; P=0.007, respectively). Since hepcidin degrades ferroportin on the Salmonella-containing vacuole, we hypothesize that reduced hepcidin in children with SMA might contribute to NTS growth by modulating iron availability for bacterial growth. Further studies are needed to understand how the hepcidin-ferroportin axis might mediate susceptibility to NTS in severely anemic children.