Neural roles for heme oxygenase: Contrasts to nitric oxide synthase

David E. Barañano, Solomon H. Snyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

257 Scopus citations


The heme oxygenase (HO) and nitric oxide (NO) synthase (NOS) systems display notable similarities as well as differences. HO and NOS are both oxidative enzymes using NADPH as an electron donor. The constitutive forms of the enzyme are differentially activated, with calcium entry stimulating NOS by binding to calmodulin, whereas calcium entry activates protein kinase C to phosphorylate and activate HO2. Although both NO and carbon monoxide (CO) stimulate soluble guanylyl cyclase to form cGMP, NO also S-nitrosylates selected protein targets. Both involve constitutive and inducible biosynthetic enzymes. However, functions of the inducible forms are virtual opposites. Macrophage-inducible NOS generates NO to kill other cells, whereas HO1 generates bilirubin to exert antioxidant cytoprotective effects and also provides cytoprotection by facilitating iron extrusion from cells. The neuronal form of HO, HO2, is also cytoprotective. Normally, neural NO in the brain seems to exert some sort of behavioral inhibition. However, excess release of NO in response to glutamate's N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation leads to stroke damage. On the other hand, massive neuronal firing during a stroke presumably activates HO2, leading to neuroprotective actions of bilirubin. Loss of this neuroprotection after HO inhibition by mutant forms of amyloid precursor protein may mediate neurotoxicity in Familial Alzheimer's Disease. NO and CO both appear to be neurotransmitters in the brain and peripheral autonomic nervous system. They also are physiologic endothelial-derived relaxing factors for blood vessels. In the gastrointestinal pathway, NO and CO appear to function as coneurotransmitters, both stimulating soluble guanylyl cyclase to cause smooth muscle relaxation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10996-11002
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - Sep 25 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Neural roles for heme oxygenase: Contrasts to nitric oxide synthase'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this