Dioxygen activation for the self-degradation of heme: Reaction mechanism and regulation of heme oxygenase

Toshitaka Matsui, Mari Iwasaki, Ryota Sugiyama, Masaki Unno, Masao Ikeda-Saito

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57 Citations (Scopus)


Heme oxygenase (HO) catalyzes the regiospecific conversion of heme to biliverdin, CO, and free iron through three successive oxygenation reactions. HO catalysis is unique in that all three O2 activations are performed by the substrate itself. This Forum Article overviews our current understanding on the structural and biochemical properties of HO catalysis, especially its first and third oxygenation steps. The HO first step, regiospecific hydroxylation of the porphyrin ∝-meso-carbon atom, is of particular interest because of its sharp contrast to O2 activation by cytochrome P450. HO was proposed to utilize the FeOOH species but not conventional ferryl hemes as a reactive intermediate for self-hydroxylation. We have succeeded in preparing and characterizing the FeOOH species of HO at low temperature, and our analyses of its reaction, together with mutational and crystallographic studies, reveal that protonation of FeOOH by a distal water molecule is critical in promoting the unique self-hydroxylation. The second oxygenation is a rapid, spontaneous autooxidation of the reactive ∝-meso-hydroxyheme in which the HO enzyme does not play a critical role. Further O2 activation by verdoheme cleaves its porphyrin macrocycle to form biliverdin and free ferrous iron. This third step has been considered to be a major rate-determining step of HO catalysis to regulate the enzyme activity. Our reaction analysis strongly supports the FeOOH verdoheme as the key intermediate of the ring-opening reaction. This mechanism is very similar to that of the first meso-hydroxylation, and the distal water is suggested to enhance the third step as expected from the similarity. The HO mechanistic studies highlight the catalytic importance of the distal hydrogen-bonding network, and this manuscript also involves our attempts to develop HO inhibitors targeting the unique distal structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3602-3609
Number of pages8
JournalInorganic chemistry
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Apr 19

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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