GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Herbert L. Bonkovsky, M.D.


Carcinoma, Hepatocellular, Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing), Ca(2+)-Calmodulin Dependent Protein Kinase, Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases, Arsenites


The chicken hepatoma cell line, LMH, was evaluated with respect to its usefulness for studies of the regulation of heme metabolism. Levels of δ-aminolevulinate synthase mRNA arid accumulation of porphyrins were used to evaluate the heme biosynthetic pathway. Regulation of heme oxygenase-1 by known inducers was used as a measure of heme degradation. The induction of heme oxygenase-1 by sodium arsenite was characterized. AP-1 transcription factor elements and MAP kinase signal transduction pathways that modulate expression of endogenous heme oxygenase-1 and transfected heme oxygenase-1 reporter gene constructs in response to arsenite were delineated.

In initial studies, the drug glutethimide was used alone or in combination with ferric nitrilotriacetate to induce δ-aminolevulinate synthase mRNA. Levels of porphyrins, intermediates in the heme biosynthetic pathway, and levels of δ-aminolevulinate synthase mRNA were increased by these treatments in a manner similar to those previously observed in the widely used model system, primary chick embryo liver cells. The iron chelator, deferoxamine, gave a characteristic shift in the glutethimide induced porphyrin accumulation in primary hepatocytes, but was found to have no, effect on LMH cells. Heme mediated repression of δ-aminolevulinate synthase mRNA levels was similar among primary hepatocytes and LMH cells. Heme oxygenase-1 was regulated by heme, metals, heat shock, and oxidative stress-inducing chemicals in LMH cells. Heat shock induction of heme oxygenase-1 mRNA levels was observed for the first time in primary chick embryo liver cells. These data supported the further use of LMH cells to elucidate mechanisms responsible for modulating heme oxygenase-1 gene expression in response to inducers.

The remainder of the studies focused on the role of heme oxygenase-1 as a stress response protein. The oxidative stress inducer, sodium arsenite was used to probe the cellular mechanisms that control the expression of heme oxygenase-1. A series of promoter-reporter constructs were used to search the heme oxygenase-1 promoter for arsenite responsive elements. Several activator protein-1 (AP-1) transcription factor binding elements were identified by computer sequence analysis. Three of these sites, located at -1578, -3656, and -4597 base pairs upstream of the transcription start site, were mutated. The arsenite responsiveness of the reporter constructs containing mutated AP-1 elements was less than that of the same constructs containing wild type AP-1 elements. At least part of the arsenite-mediated induction of heme oxygenase-1 required the activity of AP-1 transcriptional elements.

The MAP kinase signal transduction pathways and heme oxygenase-1 are activated by similar stimuli, including cellular stress. MAP kinases have been shown to exert control over gene expression through effects on the AP-1 family of transcription factors. The MAP kinases ERK, JNK, and p38 were activated by arsenite in LMH cells. Constitutively activated components of the ERK and p38 pathways increased expression of heme oxygenase-1 promoter-luciferase reporter constructs. Arsenite-mediated induction of heme oxygenase-1 was blocked by dominant negative ERK or p38 pathway components, and by specific inhibitors of MEK (upstream ERK kinase) or p38. In contrast, reporter gene expression was unchanged in the presence of constitutively activated JNK pathway components. Dominant negative JNK pathway components had no effect on arsenite induced heme oxygenase-1 gene activity.

In summary, LMH cells were characterized as a new model system for the study of heme metabolism. This cell line was then used to delineate promoter elements and signaling pathways involved in the arsenite responsiveness of heme oxygenase-1 gene expression. Three AP-1 transcription factor binding sites in the heme oxygenase-1 promoter region were required for responsiveness to arsenite. The MAP kinases ERK and p38 were shown to play an integral role in arsenite-mediated induction of heme oxygenase-1. These studies elucidate one facet of heme oxygenase-1 regulation, and provide tools that will be useful in delineating additional regulatory mechanisms.


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