Heme oxygenase (HO) is the rate-limiting enzyme in the catabolism of heme, followed by production of biliverdin, free iron and carbon monoxide (CO). Three mammalian HO isozymes have been identified, one of which, HO-1, is a stress-responsive protein induced by various oxidative agents. HO-2 and HO-3 genes are constitutively expressed. Recent studies demonstrate that the expression of HO-1 in response to different inflammatory mediators may contribute to the resolution of inflammation and have protective effects in several organs against oxidative injury. Although the mechanism underlying the anti-inflammatory actions of HO-1 remains poorly defined, both CO and biliverdin/bilirubin have been implicated in this response. In the intestinal tract, HO-1 is shown to be transcriptionally induced in response to oxidative stress, preconditioning and acute inflammation. Recent studies suggest that the induction of HO-1 expression plays a critical protective role in intestinal damage models induced by trinitrobenzene sulphonic acid or dextran sulphate sodium, indicating that activation of HO-1 may act as an endogenous defensive mechanism to reduce inflammation and tissue injury in the intestinal tract. These in vitro and in vivo data suggest that HO-1 may be a novel therapeutic target in patients with inflammatory bowel disease.