Identification of heme oxygenase-1 stimulators by a convenient ELISA-based bilirubin quantification assay

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The upregulation of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) has proven to be a useful tool for fighting inflammation. In order to identify new HO-1 inducers, an efficient screening method was developed which can provide new lead structures for drug research. We designed a simple ELISA-based HO-1 enzyme activity assay, which allows for the screening of 12 compounds in parallel in the setting of a 96-well plate. The well-established murine macrophage cell line RAW264.7 is used and only about 26 μg of protein from whole cell lysates is needed for the analysis of HO-1 activity. The quantification of HO-1 activity is based on an indirect ELISA using the specific anti-bilirubin antibody 24G7 to quantify directly bilirubin in the whole cell lysate, applying a horseradish peroxidase-tagged antibody together with ortho-phenylenediamine and H2O2 for detection. The bilirubin is produced on the action of HO enzymes by converting their substrate heme to biliverdin and additional recombinant biliverdin reductase together with NADPH at pH 7.4 in buffer. This sensitive assay allows for the detection of 0.57–82 pmol bilirubin per sample in whole cell lysates. Twenty-three small molecules, mainly natural products with an α,β-unsaturated carbonyl unit such as polyphenols, including flavonoids and chalcones, terpenes, an isothiocyanate, and the drug oltipraz were tested at typically 6 or 24 h incubation with RAW264.7 cells. The activity of known HO-1 inducers was confirmed, while the chalcones cardamonin, flavokawain A, calythropsin, 2′,3,4′-trihydroxy-4-methoxychalcone (THMC), and 2′,4′-dihydroxy-3,4-dimethoxychalcone (DHDMC) were identified as new potent HO-1 inducers. The highest inductive power after 6 h incubation was found at 10 μM for DHDMC (6.1-fold), carnosol (3.9-fold), butein (3.1-fold), THMC (2.9-fold), and zerumbone (2.5-fold). Moreover, the time dependence of HO-1 protein production for DHDMC was compared to its enzyme activity, which was further evaluated in the presence of lipopolysaccharide and the specific HO-1 inhibitor tin protoporphyrin IX. Taken together, we developed a convenient and highly sensitive ELISA-based HO-1 enzyme activity assay, allowing the identification and characterization of molecules potentially useful for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

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