Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Herbert L. Bonkovsky


5-Aminolevulinate Synthetase, Chick Embryo, Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing), Liver


Primary chick embryo liver cells were used to explore the regulation of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase and heme oxygenase, the enzymes that catalyze the rate-limiting reactions of heme anabolism and catabolism, respectively. The general focus of the work was the exploration of the novel observation in which glutethimide and iron synergistically induced both δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase and heme oxygenase, a phenomenon that would not be predicted a priori. The course of events appeared to be: first, that heme synthesis was increased after addition of the glutethimide and that iron potentiated heme synthesis; second, the heme induced heme oxygenase five to ten fold; and third, that heme oxygenase degraded the heme permitting an uncontrolled induction of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase. This induction of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase could be prevented by the addition of a metalloporphyrin inhibitor of heme oxygenase. Induced δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase activity could be dramatically reduced by the addition of nanomolar concentrations of a metalloporphyrin, inhibitory for heme oxygenase, and heme.

Specific observations related to the synergistic induction of heme oxygenase by glutethimide and iron was that the induction of heme oxygenase activity by glutethimide and iron occurred rapidly, with maximal increases occurring four to six hours after original treatment. Induction of heme oxygenase by glutethimide and iron was shown to be dependent on de novoheme synthesis since 4,6-dioxoheptanoic acid, a potent and specific inhibitor of heme biosynthesis, prevented the activity of heme oxygenase from increasing in the presence of glutethimide and iron. Induction of activity was associated with increases in heme oxygenase mRNA and protein; and, when induction was prevented by 4,6-dioxoheptanoic acid, no increase in either mRNA or immunoreactive protein was observed.

δ-Aminolevulinic acid synthase activity was also synergistically increased by glutethimide and iron; this increase occurred 4-6 hours after maximal heme oxygenase activity had been attained. The temporal relationship between the induction of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase and heme oxygenase suggested that the oxygenase depleted a regulatory heme pool that would normally prevent uncontrolled induction of the synthase. When cultures were exposed to tin-mesoporphyrin, a potent inhibitor of heme oxygenase, induction of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase, normally produced by glutethimide and iron, was prevented. Addition of tin-mesoporphyrin after δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase induction had already been established promptly halted any further induction. When heme or a combination of heme and tin-mesoporphyrin was added after induction of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase was established, activity of the synthase was rapidly reduced.

Finally, experiments in primary chick embryo liver cells with tin-, zinc- and copper- chelated porphyrins were done to assess their effects on activities of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase, induced by prior treatment of cells with glutethimide and iron. Nanomolar concentrations of zinc- or tin porphyrins reduced δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase activities, while copper-chelated porphyrins did not. When nanomolar concentrations of heme were added with zinc- or tin-porphyrins, δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase activity was further reduced. Effects of the non-heme metalloporphyrins on δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase were closely correlated with their abilities to inhibit heme oxygenase (r=0.78). The largest decrease of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase (67%) was obtained with zinc-mesoporphyrin and heme. There was a rapid appearance of the cytosolic, precursor form of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase in the presence of both 10 μM heme or 50 nM zinc-mesoporphyrin and 200 nM heme. Reduction of the half-life of the mRNA from 5.2 hours to 2.2-2.5 hours was observed in the presence of both 10 μM heme or 50 nM zinc-mesoporphyrin and 200 nM heme.

In summary, the chick embryo liver cell culture model treated with glutethimide and iron may serve as one experimental model for patients suffering from acute porphyrias, in whom uncontrolled induction of hepatic δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase plays a key role in pathogenesis of disease. The synergistic induction of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase in the presence of glutethimide and iron may serve as an experimental paradigm for this disease. The reduction of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase by low doses of zinc-mesoporphyrin and heme may help form the experimental foundation for eventual studies in patients suffering from acute porphyrias.


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