Journal of Neurochemistry, Vol. 76, No. 2, 2001 539-554 2001 International Society for Neurochemistry

Site of injury-directed induction of heme oxygenase-1 and -2 in experimental spinal cord injury: differential functions in neuronal defense mechanisms?

Nariman Panahian and Mahin D. Maines

Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, New York, USA

Address correspondence and reprint requests to M. D. Maines, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Box 712, University of Rochester School of Medicine, 601 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY, 14642, USA. E-mail:

The heme oxygenase (HO) isozymes catalyze oxidation of the heme molecule to biliverdin and carbon monoxide (CO) with the release of chelated iron. Presently, we have defined, for the first time, propensity for site of injury-directed induction of isozymes the stress-inducible isozyme, HO-1, responds distal (below) and the glucocorticoid (GC)-inducible HO-2 responds proximal (above) to the site of injury. We have also shown that reactive iron (Fe3+) and cGMP staining spatially resemble that of HO-1; which, in turn, colocalizes in motor neurons with transcription factors: Fas-associated protein containing death domain (FADD), tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) and p53. Spinal cord injury (SCI) was inflicted by clip compression for 30 min, and analyses were carried out after 4 h or 16 h. When compared with spinal cord segments proximal to the site of injury, northern blot analysis showed remarkably higher levels of HO-1 mRNA distal (below) to the site of injury at both time points. In contrast, HO-2 mRNA levels were elevated proximal (above) to the site of injury and more prominently at 16 h post SCI. Immunohistochemical analyses were carried out using 2 x 5 mm segments above and below the compression site. When compared with segments above the site of injury, the intensity of HO-1 immunostaining and the number of HO-1 positive neurons in the ventral horn motor neurons were prominently increased in segments below the injury. Western blot analysis confirmed the observations. HO-2 protein was mapped to the ventral horn motor neurons, oligodendrocytes, the Clarke's nucleus neurons and the ependymal cells. When compared with segments below the site of injury, neuronal HO-2 staining intensity was increased above the site of injury, and most notably at 16 h. These observations were also confirmed by western blotting and HO activity measurements. Tissue Fe3+ and cGMP staining were increased and prominently mapped below the site of injury, where cGMP colocalized with HO-1 in the nucleus of the motor neurons. Also, a site of injury-directed pattern of induction of FADD, TRAIL, and p53 immunoreactivity, and a widespread colocalization of the oncogenes with HO-1 protein, were found within motor neurons below the level of injury.

We forward the hypothesis that HO-1 and HO-2 have different roles in the defense mechanisms of the injured nervous system. We hypothesize that HO-1 protects against further damage by contributing to controlled cell death through their intrinsic suicide program, while HO-2 is involved in suppression of inflammatory response by NO derived radicals.

Key Words: apoptosis carbon monoxide glucocorticoids heme oxygenase neuronal defense stress response.

Abbreviations used: ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; cGMP, cyclic guanidine monophosphate; CO, carbon monoxide; DAB, 3,3'-diaminobenzidine; FADD, Fas-associated protein containing death domain; GC, glucocorticoid; GcR, glucocorticoid receptor; HO-1 and HO-2, heme oxygenase-1 and -2; H & E, hematoxylin and eosin; NF B, nuclear factor-kappaB; PFA, paraformaldehyde; SCI, spinal cord injury; SDS, sodium dodecyl sulfate; SSC, saline sodium citrate buffer; TNF, tumor necrosis factor; TRAIL, TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand; TBS, Tris-buffered saline