The ability of antimony and antimony-containing parasiticidal agents to enhance the rate of heme degradation in liver and kidney was investigated. Trivalent antimony was shown to be an extremely potent inducer of heme oxygenase, the initial and rate-limiting enzyme in heme degradation, in both organs, whereas the pentavalent form was a weak inducer of this enzyme. The ability of antimony to induce heme oxygenase was dose-dependent, independent of the salt used, and not a result of a direct activation of the enzyme in vitro. Concomitant with heme oxygenase induction by antimony, microsomal heme and cytochrome P-450 contents decreased, the cyto-chrome P-450-dependent mixed function oxidase system was impaired, and δ-ami-nolevulinate synthase (ALAS), the rate-limiting enzyme of heme synthesis, underwent the sequential changes-initial inhibition followed by rebound induction-usually associated with the administration of transition elements such as cobalt.

Antimony induction of heme oxygenase however, unlike the enzyme induction elicited by cobalt, was not prevented either by cysteine administered orally or as a cysteine metal complex, or by simultaneous zinc administration. Desferoxamine also did not block heme oxygenase induction by antimony, but this chelator did prevent the rebound increase in ALAS activity associated with antimony or cobalt treatment.

Antimony-containing parasiticidal drugs were also potent inducers of heme oxygenase in liver and kidney. The heme degradative action of these drugs may be related in part to the jaundice commonly associated with the prolonged therapeutic use of these agents.

The heme-oxygenase-inducing action of antimony-containing parasiticidal drugs is a newly defined biological property of these compounds. The relation between the parasiticidal and the heme-oxygenase-inducing actions of such drugs is unknown. However, certain parasites contain hemoproteins or require heme compounds during their life cycle. It may therefore be useful to explore the possibility that the heme-degrading and the parasiticidal actions of certain metals or metal-containing therapeutic agents are in some way related.

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