The comparative development patterns of heme oxidation andof cytochrome P-450 dependent drug oxidation in rat liver were examined. High levels of heme oxygenase activity were present in whole embryo preparations at day 13 of gestation. At birth this enzyme activity in liver was approximately equal to that of normal adult liver. In the immediate postnatal period the rate of hepatic heme oxidation increased sharply, reaching levels 3-5 times normal during the first week postpartum. Thereafter, this enzyme activity progressively decreased and returned to normal adult levels by the 28th postpartum day. The development of microsomal heme oxidation and of P-450 dependent drug oxidation exhibited reciprocal patterns, with the latter being at low levels of activity during the immediate postnatal period and reaching adult activity only 4 or more wk after birth. Cobalt injected into pregnant animals or in to nursing mothers did not induce heme oxygenase in the fetus or suckling neonate. However, when treated directly with the metal, 4-day old neonates exhibited a small induction response of this enzyme; and the inducibility of heme oxygenase increased gradually to fully adult levels by the end of the 4th postpartum week. Cobalt at all postnatal developmental stages was capable of diminishing hepatic contents of total microsomal heme and P-450; however this effect of the metal was small in the immediate period after birth and increased progressively with maturation. These findings demonstrate that the patterns of development of hepatic capacity for carrying out the oxidation of heme and the P-450 dependent oxidation of drugs are different and thus provide further evidence that these microsomal enzyme systems are distinct from each other and under separate regulatory mechanisms. The degree of induction response for hepatic heme oxygenase evoked by the trace metal, cobalt, was also shown to have developmental determinants as did the susceptibility of hepatic cytochrome P-450 to degradation by this metal. The very high levels of hepatic heme oxygenase activity which characterize neonates during the first week of life indicate that over-production of bilirubin contributes significantly to the mechanism of neonatal jaundice.

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