Heme oxygenase: Colors of defense against cellular stress

Leo E. Otterbein, Augustine M.K. Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

830 Scopus citations


The discovery of the gaseous molecule nitric oxide in 1987 unraveled investigations on its functional role in the pathogenesis of a wide spectrum of biological and pathological processes. At that time, the novel concept that an endogenous production of a gaseous substance such as nitric oxide can impart such diverse and potent cellular effects proved to be very fruitful in enhancing our understanding of many disease processes including lung disorders. Interestingly, we have known for a longer period of time that there exists another gaseous molecule that is also generated endogenously; the heme oxygenase (HO) enzyme system generates the majority if not all of the endogenously produced carbon monoxide. This enzyme system also liberates two other by-products, bilirubin and ferritin, each possessing important biological functions and helping to define the uniqueness of the HO enzyme system. In recent years, interest in HO has emerged in numerous disciplines including the central nervous system, cardiovascular physiology, renal and hepatic systems, and transplantation. We review the functional role of HO in lung biology and its real potential application to lung diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L1029-L1037
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number6 23-6
StatePublished - 2000


  • Acute lung injury
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Oxidative stress
  • Stress response genes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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