Hepatic cancers from mice and rats demonstrate decreased levels of δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase, the rate-limiting enzyme in the heme synthetic pathway, and increased heme oxygenase, the heme-catabolizing enzyme. These findings suggest that diminution of P-450, b5, and catalase in these lesions may result from a heme supply that is limited by decreased heme synthesis and increased heme catabolism. Heme synthesis was measured in mouse liver tumors (MLT) and adjacent tumor-free lobes (BKG) by administering the radiolabeled heme precursors 55FeCl3 and [2-14C]glycine and subsequently extracting the heme for determination of specific activity. Despite reduced δ-aminolevulinic acid synthase activity in MLT, both tissues incorporated [2-14C]glycine into heme at similar rates. At early time points, heme extracted from MLT contained less 55Fe than that from BKG. This was attributed to the findings that MLT took up 55Fe at a slower rate than BKG and had larger iron stores than BKG. The amount of heme per milligram of protein was also similar in both tissues. These findings militate against the hypothesis that diminished hemoprotein levels in MLT result from limited availability of heme. It is probable, therefore, that decreased hemoprotein levels in hepatic tumors are linked to a general program of dedifferentiation associated with the cancer phenotype. Diminution of hemoprotein in MLT may result in a relatively increased intracellular heme pool. δ-Aminolevulinic acid synthase and heme oxygenase are, respectively, negatively and positively regulated by heme. Thus, their alteration in MLT may be due to the regulatory influences of the heme pool.

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This investigation was supported by funds from USPHS Grant RR5511-23 and from the Walter Hill Estate Fund.

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