Although it is known that circulating heme accumulates in liver cells, the process by which heme enters hepatocytes is only partly understood. Hemopexin and a putative hemopexin receptor on hepatocyte membranes may mediate the uptake process. However, whether there are sufficient hemopexin receptors on rat hepatocytes to account for the bulk of heme entering cells is unknown. It is likely that heme may be transferred directly from albumin with the help of a plasma membrane heme transporter. To clarify the transport mechanism of heme into liver cells, we studied the uptake by short-term cultured rat hepatocytes of 55Fe-heme incubated with rat serum albumin. In these cells, the initial uptake of 55Fe-heme at 37°C was five- to eightfold higher than that at 4°C, linear for at least 5 minutes, and saturable. The K(m) of heme uptake was 0.95 ± 0.27 μmol/L, and the V(max), was 0.12 ± 0.01 pmol/min/mg protein (n = 3). Neither isosmotic substitution of sucrose for NaCl in the medium nor adenosine triphosphate (ATP) depletion, perturbations that are known to reduce uptake of bilirubin, sulfobromophthalein (BSP), and taurocholate, had any influence on 55Fe- heme uptake. In addition, heme uptake was not reduced in the presence of a greater than 500-fold molar excess of BSP. These results indicate that hepatocytes take up heme by a process that is distinct from that of these other organic anions.
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