The heme oxygenase dilemma in cellular homeostasis: new insights for the feedback regulation of heme catabolism

The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine
Shigeki Shibahara


Heme must be synthesized and degraded within an individual nucleated cell. Heme degradation is catalyzed by the two isozymes of heme oxygenase, heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) and HO-2, eventually yielding biliverdin/bilirubin, CO, and iron. These products possess important physiological roles but are potentially toxic to cells. Characteristically, human HO-1 contains no Cys residues, whereas HO-2 contains the potential heme-binding motifs of the Cys-Pro dipeptide. Expression of HO-1 is inducible or repressible, depending on cell types or cellular microenvironments, but expression levels of HO-2 are fairly constant. Thus, the main regulation of heme catabolism is a problem of the balance between induction and repression of HO-1. Notably, HO-1 expression is induced by heme in all mammalian cells examined, but is repressed by hypoxia in certain types of cultured human cells. The recent discovery of Bach1 as a heme-regulated and hypoxia-inducible repressor for transcription of the HO-1 gene has provided a missing link in the feedback control of heme catabolism. On the other hand, the human HO-1 gene promoter contains the (GT)n repeat polymorphism and a single nucleotide polymorphism (-427A --> T), both of which may contribute to fine-tuni...Continue Reading


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