TLR4 activation alters labile heme levels to regulate BACH1 and heme oxygenase-1 expression in macrophages

Kritika Sudan, Vijith Vijayan, Kukuh Madyaningrana, Faikah Gueler, Kazuhiko Igarashi, Roberta Foresti, Roberto Motterlini, Stephan Immenschuh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Heme oxygenase (HO)-1, a stress-inducible enzyme that converts heme into carbon monoxide (CO), iron and biliverdin, exerts important anti-inflammatory effects in activated macrophages. HO-1 expression is mainly governed by a mutual interplay between the transcriptional factor NRF2 and the nuclear repressor BTB and CNC homology 1 (BACH1), a heme sensor protein. In the current study we hypothesized that alterations in the levels of intracellular labile heme in macrophages stimulated by lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a prototypical pro-inflammatory Toll-like receptor (TLR)4 agonist, are responsible for BACH1-dependent HO-1 expression. To this end, labile heme was determined in both mouse bone marrow-derived macrophages (mBMDMs) and human monocyte-derived macrophages (hMDMs) using an apo-horseradish peroxidase-based assay. We found that LPS raised the levels of labile heme, depressed BACH1 protein and up-regulated HO-1 in mBMDMs. In contrast, in hMDMs LPS decreased labile heme levels while increasing BACH1 expression and down-regulating HO-1. These effects were abolished by the TLR4 antagonist TAK-242, suggesting that TLR4 activation triggers the signaling cascade leading to changes in the labile heme pool. Studies using mBMDMs from BACH1−/− and NRF2−/− mice revealed that regulation of HO-1 and levels of labile heme after LPS stimulation are strictly dependent on BACH1, but not NRF2. A strong interplay between BACH1-mediated HO-1 expression and intracellular levels of labile heme was also confirmed in hMDMs with siRNA knockdown studies and following inhibition of de novo heme synthesis with succinylacetone. Finally, CORM-401, a compound that liberates CO, counteracted LPS-dependent down-regulation of HO-1 and restored levels of labile heme in hMDMs. In conclusion, alterations of labile heme levels in macrophages following TLR4 stimulation play a crucial role in BACH1-mediated regulation of HO-1 expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-142
Number of pages12
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jun


  • BACH1
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Heme
  • Heme oxygenase-1
  • Inflammation
  • Lipopolysaccharide
  • Macrophages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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