Catalytic inactive heme oxygenase-1 protein regulates its own expression in oxidative stress

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Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) catalyzes the degradation of heme and forms antioxidant bile pigments as well as the signaling molecule carbon monoxide. HO-1 is inducible in response to a variety of chemical and physical stress conditions to function as a cytoprotective molecule. Therefore, it is important to maintain the basal level of HO-1 expression even when substrate availability is limited. We hypothesized that the HO-1 protein itself could regulate its own expression in a positive feedback manner, and that this positive feedback was important in the HO-1 gene induction in response to oxidative stress. In cultured NIH 3T3 cells, transfection of HO-1 cDNA or intracellular delivery of pure HO-1 protein resulted in activation of a 15-kb HO-1 promoter upstream of luciferase as visualized by bioluminescent technology and increased HO-1 mRNA and protein levels. These effects were independent of HO activity because an enzymatically inactive mutant form of HO-1 similarly activated the HO-1 promoter and incubation with HO inhibitor metalloporphyrin SnPP did not affect the promoter activation. In addition, HO-1-specific siRNA significantly reduced hemin and cadmium chloride-mediated HO-1 induction. Furthermore, deletion analyses demonstrated that the E1 and E2 distal enhancers of the HO-1 promoter are required for this HO-1 autoregulation. These experiments document feed-forward autoregulation of HO-1 in oxidative stress and suggest that HO-1 protein has a role in the induction process. We speculate that this mechanism may be useful for maintaining HO-1 expression when substrate is limited and may also serve to up-regulate other genes to promote cytoprotection and to modulate cell proliferation.

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