The heme-regulatory motifs of heme oxygenase-2 contribute to the transfer of heme to the catalytic site for degradation

J Biol Chem. 2020 Apr 17;295(16):5177-5191. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.012803. Epub 2020 Mar 9.


Heme-regulatory motifs (HRMs) are present in many proteins that are involved in diverse biological functions. The C-terminal tail region of human heme oxygenase-2 (HO2) contains two HRMs whose cysteine residues form a disulfide bond; when reduced, these cysteines are available to bind Fe3+-heme. Heme binding to the HRMs occurs independently of the HO2 catalytic active site in the core of the protein, where heme binds with high affinity and is degraded to biliverdin. Here, we describe the reversible, protein-mediated transfer of heme between the HRMs and the HO2 core. Using hydrogen-deuterium exchange (HDX)-MS to monitor the dynamics of HO2 with and without Fe3+-heme bound to the HRMs and to the core, we detected conformational changes in the catalytic core only in one state of the catalytic cycle-when Fe3+-heme is bound to the HRMs and the core is in the apo state. These conformational changes were consistent with transfer of heme between binding sites. Indeed, we observed that HRM-bound Fe3+-heme is transferred to the apo-core either upon independent expression of the core and of a construct spanning the HRM-containing tail or after a single turnover of heme at the core. Moreover, we observed transfer of heme from the core to the HRMs and equilibration of heme between the core and HRMs. We therefore propose an Fe3+-heme transfer model in which HRM-bound heme is readily transferred to the catalytic site for degradation to facilitate turnover but can also equilibrate between the sites to maintain heme homeostasis.

Keywords: conformational change; enzyme kinetics; enzyme mechanism; heme oxygenase; heme-binding site; heme-regulatory motif; hydrogen exchange mass spectrometry; hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry (HDX-MS); intramolecular interaction; membrane protein; metalloprotein; protein dynamics; protein-protein interaction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Catalytic Domain*
  • Heme / chemistry
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / chemistry*
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Deuterium Exchange-Mass Spectrometry
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation


  • Heme
  • Iron
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing)
  • heme oxygenase-2

Associated data

  • PDB/2RGZ