Heme as a magnificient molecule with multiple missions: Heme determines its own fate and governs cellular homeostasis

Kazumichi Furuyama, Kiriko Kaneko, Patrick D. Vargas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

143 Citations (Scopus)


Heme is a prosthetic group of various types of proteins, such as hemoglobin, myoglobin, cytochrome c, cytochrome p450, catalase and peroxidase. In addition, heme is involved in a variety of biological events by modulating the function or the state of hemoproteins. For example, protein synthesis is inhibited in erythroid cells under heme deficiency, as the consequence of the activation of heme-regulated inhibitor (HRI). Iron concentration in the cell is sensed and regulated by the heme-mediated oxidization and subsequent degradation of iron regulatory protein 2 (IRP2). Heme also binds to certain types of potassium channels, thereby inhibiting transmembrane K+ currents. Importantly, heme determines its own fate; namely, heme regulates its synthesis and degradation through the feedback mechanisms, by which intracellular heme level is precisely maintained. Heme reduces heme synthesis by suppressing the expression of non-specific 5-aminolevulinate synthase (ALAS1) and stimulates heme breakdown by inducing heme oxygenase (HO)-1 expression. ALAS1 and HO-1 are the rate limiting enzymes in heme biosynthesis and catabolism, respectively. Accordingly, under the heme-rich condition, heme binds to cysteine-proline (CP) motifs of ALAS1 and those of transcriptional repressor Bach1, thereby leading to repression of mitochondrial transport of ALAS1 and induction of HO-1 transcription, respectively. Moreover, chemosensing functions of HO-2 containing CP motifs, another isozyme of HO, have been unveiled recently. In this review article, we summarize and update the pleiotropic effects of heme on various biological events and the regulatory network of heme biosynthesis and catabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalTohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007 Aug 31


  • Aminolevulinate synthase
  • Bach1
  • CP motif
  • Heme
  • Heme oxygenase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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