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Purpose of review: Heme oxygenase activity, possessed by an inducible heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) and a constitutive isoform (HO-2), catalyzes the conversion of heme to biliverdin, liberates iron, and generates carbon monoxide. First shown in acute kidney injury (AKI), HO-1 is now recognized as a protectant against diverse insults in assorted tissues. This review summarizes recent contributions to the field of HO-1 and AKI.

Recent findings: Recent findings elucidate the following: the transcriptional regulation and significance of human HO-1 in AKI; the protective effects of HO-1 in age-dependent and sepsis-related AKI, cardiorenal syndromes, and acute vascular rejection in renal xenografts; the role of heme oxygenase in tubuloglomerular feedback and renal resistance to injury; the basis for cytoprotection by HO-1; the protective properties of ferritin and carbon monoxide; HO-1 and the AKI-chronic kidney disease transition; HO-1 as a biomarker in AKI; the role of HO-1 in mediating the protective effects of specific cytokines, stem cells, and therapeutic agents in AKI; and HO-2 as a protectant in AKI.

Summary: Recent contributions support, and elucidate the basis for, the induction of HO-1 as a protectant against AKI. Translating such therapeutic potential into a therapeutic reality requires well tolerated and effective modalities for upregulating HO-1 and/or administering its products, which, optimally, should be salutary even when AKI is already established.

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