Heme oxygenases are composed of two isozymes, Hmox1 and Hmox2, that catalyze the degradation of heme to carbon monoxide (CO), ferrous iron, and biliverdin, the latter of which is subsequently converted to bilirubin. While initially considered to be waste products, CO and biliverdin/bilirubin have been shown over the last 20 years to modulate key cellular processes, such as inflammation, cell proliferation, and apoptosis, as well as antioxidant defense. This shift in paradigm has led to the importance of heme oxygenases and their products in cell physiology now being well accepted. The identification of the two human cases thus far of heme oxygenase deficiency and the generation of mice deficient in Hmox1 or Hmox2 have reiterated a role for these enzymes in both normal cell function and disease pathogenesis, especially in the context of cardiovascular disease. This review covers the current knowledge on the function of both Hmox1 and Hmox2 at both a cellular and tissue level in the cardiovascular system. Initially, the roles of heme oxygenases in vascular health and the regulation of processes central to vascular diseases are outlined, followed by an evaluation of the role(s) of Hmox1 and Hmox2 in various diseases such as atherosclerosis, intimal hyperplasia, myocardial infarction, and angiogenesis. Finally, the therapeutic potential of heme oxygenases and their products are examined in a cardiovascular disease context, with a focus on how the knowledge we have gained on these enzymes may be capitalized in future clinical studies.
Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society.