Heme oxygenase-1 couples activation of mitochondrial biogenesis to anti-inflammatory cytokine expression

J Biol Chem. 2011 May 6;286(18):16374-85. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.207738. Epub 2011 Mar 18.


The induction of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1; Hmox1) by inflammation, for instance in sepsis, is associated both with an anti-inflammatory response and with mitochondrial biogenesis. Here, we tested the idea that HO-1, acting through the Nfe2l2 (Nrf2) transcription factor, links anti-inflammatory cytokine expression to activation of mitochondrial biogenesis. HO-1 induction after LPS stimulated anti-inflammatory IL-10 and IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) expression in mouse liver, human HepG2 cells, and mouse J774.1 macrophages but blunted tumor necrosis factor-α expression. This was accompanied by nuclear Nfe2l2 accumulation and led us to identify abundant Nfe2l2 and other mitochondrial biogenesis transcription factor binding sites in the promoter regions of IL10 and IL1Ra compared with pro-inflammatory genes regulated by NF-κΒ. Mechanistically, HO-1, through its CO product, enabled these transcription factors to bind the core IL10 and IL1Ra promoters, which for IL10 included Nfe2l2, nuclear respiratory factor (NRF)-2 (Gabpa), and MEF2, and for IL1Ra, included NRF-1 and MEF2. In cells, Hmox1 or Nfe2l2 RNA silencing prevented IL-10 and IL-1Ra up-regulation, and HO-1 induction failed post-LPS in Nfe2l2-silenced cells and post-sepsis in Nfe2l2(-/-) mice. Nfe2l2(-/-) mice compared with WT mice, showed more liver damage, higher mortality, and ineffective CO rescue in sepsis. Nfe2l2(-/-) mice in sepsis also generated higher hepatic TNF-α mRNA levels, lower NRF-1 and PGC-1α mRNA levels, and no enhancement of anti-inflammatory Il10, Socs3, or bcl-x(L) gene expression. These findings disclose a highly structured transcriptional network that couples mitochondrial biogenesis to counter-inflammation with major implications for immune suppression in sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbon Monoxide / metabolism
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / genetics
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / metabolism*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria, Liver / enzymology*
  • Mitochondria, Liver / genetics
  • Sepsis / enzymology*
  • Sepsis / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Cytokines
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • HMOX1 protein, human
  • Heme Oxygenase-1
  • Hmox1 protein, mouse