Heme oxygenase: a novel target for the modulation of the inflammatory response

Nat Med. 1996 Jan;2(1):87-90. doi: 10.1038/nm0196-87.


Chronic inflammatory diseases place a heavy social and economic burden on the resources of many nations, but the number of safe and effective treatments is limited. To date, the major research effort has concentrated on those mediators responsible for the initiation and maintenance of the pathological process. In contrast, little attention has been focused on endogenous factors responsible for the resolution of the inflammation. Heme oxygenase ((HO); EC is the rate-limiting enzyme in the catabolism of heme to biliverdin (which is converted to bilirubin by biliverdin reductase), free iron and carbon monoxide (CO). Two isoforms of HO have been characterized, the constitutive isoform, HO-2, which is the major isoform present under physiological conditions, and the stress-induced isoform, HO-1, which has also been classified as heat-shock protein 32K (ref. 1). Increases in HO activity have been implicated in tissue protection against oxidative stress. In this communication, we describe the effects of modulating HO during an acute complement-dependent inflammatory response. Elevation of this enzyme resulted in a striking suppression, whereas inhibition of the enzyme led to a potentiation of the inflammatory response. Such novel enzyme modulation has application on the one hand to the treatment of inflammatory diseases and on the other hand to immnosuppressed states in which the impaired ability to mount an adequate inflammatory response may result in death from opportunistic infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bilirubin / analysis
  • Bilirubin / metabolism
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carrageenan
  • Complement System Proteins / immunology*
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / biosynthesis
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / metabolism*
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Inflammation / prevention & control*
  • Isoenzymes / biosynthesis
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Monocytes / physiology*
  • Neutrophils / physiology*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Pleura
  • Rats
  • Time Factors


  • Isoenzymes
  • Carrageenan
  • Complement System Proteins
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing)
  • Bilirubin