• glutathione depletion;
  • haem oxygenase;
  • oxidative shock;
  • programmed cell death;
  • protoporphyrins


In order to investigate the function of haem oxygenase in neuronal cell death or survival, we have determined in PC12 cells whether induction of haem oxygenase mRNA and protein or inhibition of haem oxygenase activity may be able to modulate the cell response to an oxidative stress. Inhibition of glutathione biosynthesis by buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) has indeed been demonstrated, in this cell line, to decrease the intracellular content of glutathione and to trigger a gradual and programmed cell death. Inhibition of haem oxygenase by zinc protoporphyrin IX, a potent inhibitor of this enzyme, or by a recently described peptidic inhibitor, induced a significant decrease in the toxicity of BSO. This protective action was not due to an alteration in the metabolism of glutathione and was still observed when the protecting agent was added several hours after BSO treatment. Induction of haem oxygenase-1 mRNA and protein by either haemin or pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate was associated with no protection or a significant reduction in the toxicity of BSO respectively. Our results indicate that induction of haem oxygenase-1 is not obligatorily associated with an improved resistance towards oxidative stress and suggest that a byproduct of haem degradation may also become detrimental.