Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is an inducible rate-limiting enzyme which catalyzes group heme into carbon monoxide, iron and bilirubin. In the recent years, HO-1 expression has been reported as an important protective endogenous mechanism against physical, chemical and biological stress. In this regard, induction of this enzyme has shown beneficial effects in several pathologic conditions, such as inflammatory processes, atherosclerosis, carcinogenesis, ischemia-reperfusion systems or degenerative diseases. Complex intracellular signalling cascades mediate the expression of HO-1 in response to external stimuli, Transcription factors, as nuclear factor E2 – related factor-2, activator protein-1, and nuclear factor-kappa B, and some of their upstream kinases, mitogen-activated protein kinases, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, or protein kinases A, C are responsible of the HO-1 gene expression. The purpose of this article is to review the increasing number of natural and synthetic molecules reported to induce HO-1 as additive mechanism responsible for their therapeutic effects; experimental and pathological conditions as well as possible signalling mechanism involved in HO-1 expression by this compounds are described. Controlled upregulation of this enzyme, or its catalytic activity, has shown antioxidant, anti-proliferative, anti-apoptotic and anti-inflammatory properties. For this reason, pharmacologic modulation of HO- 1 system may represent an effective and cooperative strategy to intervene in several pathologic conditions.
Keywords: Heme oxygenase-1, chemical inducers, pharmacological modulation