The inhibition of delta-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) synthase activity by heme is commonly thought to regulate the overall rate of heme synthesis in erythroid cells. However, since heme inhibits erythroid cell uptake of iron from transferrin, we have tested the hypothesis that in reticulocytes heme regulates its own synthesis by controlling the cellular acquisition of iron from transferrin rather than by controlling the synthesis of ALA. We found that hemin added to reticulocytes in vitro inhibits not only the total cell incorporation of 59Fe from transferrin but also the incorporation of [2–14C]-glycine and transferrin-bound 59Fe into heme. However, hemin did not inhibit [2 –14C]-glycine incorporation into protoporphyrin. Furthermore, cycloheximide, which increases the level of non-hemoglobin heme in reticulocytes, also inhibited [2–14C]-glycine into heme but not into protoporphyrin. With high concentrations of ferric pyridoxal benzoylhydrazone (Fe-PBH), which, independent of transferrin and transferrin receptors, can be used as a source of iron for heme synthesis in reticulocytes, significantly more iron is incorporated into heme than from saturating concentrations of Fe-transferrin. This suggests that some step (or steps) in the pathway of iron from extracellular transferrin to protoporphyrin limits the overall rate of heme synthesis in reticulocytes. In addition, hemin in concentrations that inhibit the utilization of transferrin-bound iron for heme synthesis has no effect on the incorporation of iron from Fe-PBH into heme. Our results indicate that in reticulocytes heme inhibits and controls the utilization of iron from transferrin but has no effect on the enzymes of porphyrin biosynthesis and ferrochelatase. This mode of regulation of heme synthesis may be a specific characteristic of the hemoglobin biosynthetic pathway.

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