Heme proteins such as myoglobin or hemoglobin, when released into the extracellular space, can instigate tissue toxicity. Myoglobin is directly implicated in the pathogenesis of renal failure in rhabdomyolysis. In the glycerol model of this syndrome, we demonstrate that the kidney responds to such inordinte amounts of heme proteins by inducing the heme-degradative enzyme, heme oxygenase, as well as increasing the synthesis of ferritin, the major cellular repository for iron. Prior recruitment of this response with a single preinfusion of hemoglobin prevents kidney failure and drastically reduces mortality (from 100% to 14%). Conversely, ablating this response with a competitive inhibitor of heme oxygenase exacerbates kidney dysfunction. We provide the first in vivo evidence that induction of heme oxygenase coupled to ferritin synthesis is a rapid, protective antioxidant response. Our findings suggest a therapeutic strategy for populations at a high risk for rhabdomvolysis.