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Trends Mol Med. 2009 Feb;15(2):50-8. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2008.12.004. Epub 2009 Jan 21.

Heme oxygenase-1: from biology to therapeutic potential.

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  • 1Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Rua da Quinta Grande, 60, 2780-156, Oeiras, Portugal.


Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is a stress-responsive enzyme that catabolizes free heme into carbon monoxide, iron (which induces the expression of heavy-chain ferritin, an iron-sequestering protein) and biliverdin (which is converted to bilirubin by biliverdin reductase). Over the past few years it has become apparent that these 'arms' of the HO-1 system can act protectively in a variety of experimental models of disease; there is also evidence that HO-1 and bilirubin have protective actions in humans. Here, we present a model for the beneficial actions of the products of heme degradation, and we discuss the potential clinical applications of enhancing the HO-1 system.

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