This review provides a synopsis of the published literature over the past two years on the heme-binding protein hemopexin (HPX), with some background information on the biochemistry of the HPX system. One focus is on the mechanisms of heme-driven pathology in the context of heme and iron homeostasis in human health and disease. The heme-binding protein hemopexin is a multi-functional protectant against hemoglobin (Hb)-derived heme toxicity as well as mitigating heme-mediated effects on immune cells, endothelial cells, and stem cells that collectively contribute to driving inflammation, perturbing vascular hemostasis and blood–brain barrier function. Heme toxicity, which may lead to iron toxicity, is recognized increasingly in a wide range of conditions involving hemolysis and immune system activation and, in this review, we highlight some newly identified actions of heme and hemopexin especially in situations where normal processes fail to maintain heme and iron homeostasis. Finally, we present preliminary data showing that the cytokine IL-6 cross talks with activation of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase pathway in response to heme-hemopexin in models of hepatocytes. This indicates another level of complexity in the cell responses to elevated heme via the HPX system when the immune system is activated and/or in the presence of inflammation.
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