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Induction of heme oxygenase in intestinal epithelial cells: studies in Caco-2 cell cultures


Enterally administered, heme is a good source of iron in humans and other animals, but the metabolism of heme by enterocytes has not been fully characterized. Caco-2 cells in culture provide a useful model for studying cells that resemble small intestinal epithelium, both morphologically and functionally. In this paper we show that heme oxygenase, the rate-controlling enzyme of heme catabolism, is present in abundance in Caco-2 cells, and that levels of its mRNA and activity can be increased by exposure of the cells to heme or metal ions (cadmium, cobalt). Caco-2 cells also contain biliverdin reductase activity which, in the basal state, is similar to that of heme oxygenase (approximately 40 pmole of product per mg protein per minute); however, when heme oxygenase is induced, biliverdin reductase may become rate-limiting for bilirubin production.

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biliverdin reductase


Dulbecco's modified Eagles medium


dimethyl sulfoxide


heme oxygenase


a solution of 0.015 M sodium citrate/0.15 sodium chloride


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Correspondence to Herbert L. Bonkovsky.

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Cable, J.W., Cable, E.E. & Bonkovsky, H.L. Induction of heme oxygenase in intestinal epithelial cells: studies in Caco-2 cell cultures. Mol Cell Biochem 129, 93–98 (1993).

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Key words

  • biliverdin reductase
  • Caco-2 cells
  • heme
  • heme oxygenase
  • intestinal cells