Wearing red for signaling: the heme-bach axis in heme metabolism, oxidative stress response and iron immunology

Tohoku J Exp Med. 2014 Apr;232(4):229-53. doi: 10.1620/tjem.232.229.


The connection between gene regulation and metabolism is an old issue that warrants revisiting in order to understand both normal as well as pathogenic processes in higher eukaryotes. Metabolites affect the gene expression by either binding to transcription factors or serving as donors for post-translational modification, such as that involving acetylation and methylation. The focus of this review is heme, a prosthetic group of proteins that includes hemoglobin and cytochromes. Heme has been shown to bind to several transcription factors, including Bach1 and Bach2, in higher eukaryotes. Heme inhibits the transcriptional repressor activity of Bach1, resulting in the derepression of its target genes, such as globin in erythroid cells and heme oxygenase-1 in diverse cell types. Since Bach2 is important for class switch recombination and somatic hypermutation of immunoglobulin genes as well as regulatory and effector T cell differentiation and the macrophage function, the heme-Bach2 axis may regulate the immune response as a signaling cascade. We discuss future issues regarding the topic of the iron/heme-gene regulation network based on current understanding of the heme-Bach axis, including the concept of "iron immunology" as the synthesis of the iron metabolism and the immune response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Fanconi Anemia Complementation Group Proteins / genetics
  • Fanconi Anemia Complementation Group Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology*
  • Globins / metabolism
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron / immunology*
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / immunology
  • Mice
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Oxidative Stress / immunology*


  • BACH1 protein, human
  • BACH2 protein, human
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Fanconi Anemia Complementation Group Proteins
  • Heme
  • Globins
  • Iron
  • Heme Oxygenase-1