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Atherosclerosis. 2012 Oct;224(2):394-400. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.07.043. Epub 2012 Aug 23.

Heme modulates smooth muscle cell proliferation and migration via NADPH oxidase: a counter-regulatory role for heme oxygenase system.

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Department of Cell Biology, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, UERJ, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.


Accumulation of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) in response to inflammatory stimuli is a key event in atherogenesis, which commonly occurs in sinuous vessels with turbulent blood flow what leads to hemolysis and consequent free heme accumulation, a known pro-oxidant and pro-inflammatory molecule. In this work, we investigated the effects of free heme on VSMC, and the molecular mechanisms underlying this process. Free heme induces a concentration-dependent migration and proliferation of VSMC which depends on the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) derived from NADPH oxidase (NADPHox) activity. Additionally, heme activates redox-sensitive proliferation-related signaling routes, such as mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) and NF-κB, and induces heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) expression. NADPHox-dependent proliferative effect of heme seems to be endogenously modulated by HO since the pretreatment of VSMC with HO inhibitors potentiates heme-induced proliferation and, in parallel, increases ROS production. These effects were no longer observed in the presence of heme metabolites, carbon monoxide and biliverdin. The data indicate that VSMC proliferation induced by heme is endogenously modulated by a critical counter-regulatory crosstalk between NADPHox and HO systems.

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