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Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1997 Dec;216(3):456-63.

Heme induces the expression of adhesion molecules ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and E selectin in vascular endothelial cells.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, New York Medical College, Valhalla 10595, USA.


Heme is an important immunostimulating agent and oxidative factor contributing to endothelial cell activation. To investigate the mechanism of heme-induced endothelial cell activation, we analyzed the effect of heme and the inflammatory cytokine, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), on the expression of the heme-degrading stress protein, heme oxygenase (HO), and adhesion molecules in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC). Indirect immunofluorescence double labeling studies demonstrated a simultaneous increase of ICAM-1 and HO-1 after exposure of cells to heme for 24 hr. Co-expression of HO-1 and ICAM-1 was also demonstrated in TNF-alpha-exposed cells. Dot blot immunoassay and quantitative analysis by ELISA demonstrated that heme treatment for 24 hr caused a 2-fold increase in ICAM-1 expression (P < 0.002) compared with quiescent cells, while in cells stimulated by TNF-alpha for 24 hr ICAM-1 gene expression increased by 5-fold. Moreover, heme exposure also resulted in a marked increase in VCAM-1 and E selectin expression (three and four times over control levels, respectively). On the other hand, TNF-alpha treatment showed similar expression levels for VCAM-1 and E selectin, compared with stimulation by heme (100 microM). The level of HO activity in endothelial cells exposed to heme or TNF-alpha was increased from 24.7 +/- 5.7 pmol bilirubin/mg protein/min in control to 70.0 +/- 9.5 and 36.7 +/- 3.1 pmol bilirubin/mg protein/min in heme- and TNF-alpha-stimulated cells, respectively. These results suggest that upregulation of ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and E selectin expression is associated with oxidative stress induced by hemoglobin/heme and that HO-1 may play a modulating role via its ability to degrade heme to a substance with antioxidant properties.

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