Heme oxygenase-1 and neurodegeneration: Expanding frontiers of engagement

Hyman M. Schipper, Wei Song, Hillel Zukor, Jacob R. Hascalovici, David Zeligman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

230 Scopus citations


The heme oxygenases (HOs), responsible for the degradation of heme to biliverdin/bilirubin, free iron and CO, have been heavily implicated in mammalian CNS aging and disease. In normal brain, the expression of HO-2 is constitutive, abundant and fairly ubiquitous, whereas HO-1 mRNA and protein are confined to small populations of scattered neurons and neuroglia. In contradistinction to HO-2, the ho-1 gene (Hmox1) is exquisitely sensitive to induction by a wide range of pro-oxidant and other stressors. In Alzheimer disease and mild cognitive impairment, immunoreactive HO-1 protein is over-expressed in neurons and astrocytes of the cerebral cortex and hippocampus relative to age-matched, cognitively intact controls and co-localizes to senile plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and corpora amylacea. In Parkinson disease, HO-1 is markedly over-expressed in astrocytes of the substantia nigra and decorates Lewy bodies in affected dopaminergic neurons. HMOX1 is also up-regulated in glial cells surrounding human cerebral infarcts, hemorrhages and contusions, within multiple sclerosis plaques, and in other degenerative and inflammatory human CNS disorders. Heme-derived free ferrous iron, CO, and biliverdin/bilirubin are biologically active substances that have been shown to either ameliorate or exacerbate neural injury contingent upon specific disease models employed, the intensity and duration of HO-1 expression and the nature of the prevailing redox microenvironment. In 'stressed' astroglia, HO-1 hyperactivity promotes mitochondrial sequestration of non-transferrin iron and macroautophagy and may thereby contribute to the pathological iron deposition and bioenergetic failure amply documented in Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease and other aging-related neurodegenerative disorders. Glial HO-1 expression may also impact cell survival and neuroplasticity in these conditions by modulating brain sterol metabolism and proteosomal degradation of neurotoxic protein aggregates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-485
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Neurochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Alzheimer disease
  • Heme oxygenase-1
  • Iron
  • Oxidative stress
  • Parkinson disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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