Control of intracellular heme levels: heme transporters and heme oxygenases

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011 May;1813(5):668-82. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2011.01.008. Epub 2011 Jan 14.


Heme serves as a co-factor in proteins involved in fundamental biological processes including oxidative metabolism, oxygen storage and transport, signal transduction and drug metabolism. In addition, heme is important for systemic iron homeostasis in mammals. Heme has important regulatory roles in cell biology, yet excessive levels of intracellular heme are toxic; thus, mechanisms have evolved to control the acquisition, synthesis, catabolism and expulsion of cellular heme. Recently, a number of transporters of heme and heme synthesis intermediates have been described. Here we review aspects of heme metabolism and discuss our current understanding of heme transporters, with emphasis on the function of the cell-surface heme exporter, FLVCR. Knockdown of Flvcr in mice leads to both defective erythropoiesis and disturbed systemic iron homeostasis, underscoring the critical role of heme transporters in mammalian physiology. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: 11th European Symposium on Calcium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Heme / biosynthesis
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*


  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Heme
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing)