Endothelial cell heme oxygenase and ferritin induction in rat lung by hemoglobin in vivo

J. Balla, K. A. Nath, G. Balla, M. B. Juckett, H. S. Jacob, G. M. Vercellotti

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114 Scopus citations


Iron-derived reactive oxygen species play an important role in the pathogenesis of various vascular disorders including vasculitis, atherosclerosis, and capillary leak syndromes such as the adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). We have suggested that acute incorporation of the heme moiety of hemoglobin released from red blood cells into endothelium could provide catalytically active iron to the vasculature. Adaptation to chronic heme stress involves the induction of heme oxygenase and ferritin; the latter provides cytoprotection against free radicals in vitro. The present studies examine the bioavailability of heme, derived from hemoglobin, to induce heme oxygenase and ferritin in rat lungs in vivo. Intravenous injection of methemoglobin, but not oxyhemoglobin, increases total lung heme oxygenase mRNA approximately fivefold after 16 h. Accompanying this mRNA induction, expression of total lung heme oxygenase enzyme activity is also markedly enhanced. In situ hybridization for heme oxygenase reveals mRNA accumulation in the lung microvascular endothelium, implying incorporation of heme into endothelial cells. Similarly, methemoglobin significantly increases the ferritin protein content of rat lungs and in parallel, ferritin light- chain mRNA increases ~1.6-fold, whereas heavy-chain mRNA is upregulated by ~1.9-fold. Immunoreactive ferritin is present in lung microvascular endothelium after methemoglobin treatment, suggesting incorporation of heme iron into pulmonary vasculature. Subcutaneous injection of Sn-protoporphyrin IX, a competitive inhibitor of heme oxygenase, does not affect methemoglobin- induced ferritin synthesis in lungs. We speculate that methemoglobin, which might be generated by activated leukocytes in ARDS associated with disseminated interavascular coagulation, can provide heme iron to lung microvascular endothelium to induce heme oxygenase and ferritin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L321-L327
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number2 12-2
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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