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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Jul 18;92(15):6798-802.

Transfection of the human heme oxygenase gene into rabbit coronary microvessel endothelial cells: protective effect against heme and hemoglobin toxicity.

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  • 1Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021, USA.


Heme oxygenase (HO) is a stress protein and has been suggested to participate in defense mechanisms against agents that may induce oxidative injury such as metals, endotoxin, heme/hemoglobin, and various cytokines. Overexpression of HO in cells might therefore protect against oxidative stress produced by certain of these agents, specifically heme and hemoglobin, by catalyzing their degradation to bilirubin, which itself has antioxidant properties. We report here the successful in vitro transfection of rabbit coronary microvessel endothelial cells with a functioning gene encoding the human HO enzyme. A plasmid containing the cytomegalovirus promoter and the human HO cDNA complexed to cationic liposomes (Lipofectin) was used to transfect rabbit endothelial cells. Cells transfected with human HO exhibited an approximately 3.0-fold increase in enzyme activity and expressed a severalfold induction of human HO mRNA as compared with endogenous rabbit HO mRNA. Transfected and nontransfected cells expressed factor VIII antigen and exhibited similar acetylated low-density lipoprotein uptake (two important features that characterize endothelial cells) with > 85% of cells staining positive for each marker. Moreover, cells transfected with the human HO gene acquired substantial resistance to toxicity produced by exposure to recombinant hemoglobin and heme as compared with nontransfected cells. The protective effect of HO overexpression against heme/hemoglobin toxicity in endothelial cells shown in these studies provides direct evidence that the inductive response of human HO to such injurious stimuli represents an important tissue adaptive mechanism for moderating the severity of cell damage produced by these blood components.

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