Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is the most common AIDS-associated malignancy and is characterized by angiogenesis and the presence of spindle cells. Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is consistently associated with all clinical forms of KS, and in vitro infection of dermal microvascular endothelial cells (DMVECs) with KSHV recapitulates many of the features of KS, including transformation, spindle cell proliferation, and angiogenesis. To study the molecular mechanisms of KSHV pathogenesis, we compared the protein expression profiles of KSHV-infected and uninfected DMVECs. This comparison revealed that heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), the inducible enzyme responsible for the rate-limiting step in heme catabolism, was up-regulated in infected endothelial cells. Recent evidence suggests that the products of heme catabolism have important roles in endothelial cell biology, including apoptosis and angiogenesis. Here we show that HO-1 mRNA and protein are up-regulated in KSHV-infected cultures. Comparison of oral and cutaneous AIDS-KS tissues with normal tissues revealed that HO-1 MRNA and protein were also up-regulated in vivo. Increased HO-1 enzymatic activity in vitro enhanced proliferation of KSHV-infected DMVECs in the presence of free heme. Treatment with the HO-1 inhibitor chromium mesoporphyrin IX abolished heme-induced proliferation. These data suggest that HO-1 is a potential therapeutic target for KS that warrants further study.
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