Carbon monoxide (CO) is a putative gaseous neurotransmitter that lacks vesicular storage and must be synthesized rapidly following neuronal depolarization. We show that the biosynthetic enzyme for CO, heme oxygenase-2 (HO2), is activated during neuronal stimulation by phosphorylation by CK2 (formerly casein kinase 2). Phorbol ester treatment of hippocampal cultures results in the phosphorylation and activation of HO2 by CK2, implicating protein kinase C (PKC) in CK2 stimulation. Odorant treatment of olfactory receptor neurons augments HO2 phosphorylation and activity as well as cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) levels, with all of these effects selectively blocked by CK2 inhibitors. Likewise, CO-mediated nonadrenergic, noncholinergic (NANC) relaxation of the internal anal sphincter requires CK2 activity. Our findings provide a molecular mechanism for the rapid neuronal activation of CO biosynthesis, as required for a gaseous neurotransmitter.
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