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Adv Clin Chem. 2007;43:1-57.

The heme catabolic pathway and its protective effects on oxidative stress-mediated diseases.

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  • 1Fourth Department of Internal Medicine, Institute of Clinical Biochemistry, Laboratory Diagnostics, Charles University of Prague, U Nemocnice 2, Praha 2, 128 08 Prague, Czech Republic.


Bilirubin, the principal bile pigment, is the end product of heme catabolism. For many years, bilirubin was thought to have no physiological function other than that of a waste product of heme catabolism--useless at best and toxic at worst. Although hyperbilirubinemia in neonates has been shown to be neurotoxic, studies performed during the past decade have found that bilirubin has a number of new and interesting biochemical and biological properties. In addition, there is now a strong body of evidence suggesting that bilirubin may have a beneficial role in preventing oxidative changes in a number of diseases including atherosclerosis and cancer, as well as a number of inflammatory, autoimmune, and degenerative diseases. The results also suggest that activation of the heme oxygenase and heme catabolic pathway may have beneficiary effects on disease prevention either through the action of bilirubin or in conjunction with bilirubin. If so, it may be possible to therapeutically induce heme oxygenase, increase bilirubin concentrations, and lower the risk of oxidative stress-related diseases.

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