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Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2010 Jun;15(3):141-7. doi: 10.1016/j.siny.2009.10.005. Epub 2009 Nov 22.

Controversies in bilirubin biochemistry and their clinical relevance.

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Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Despite a century of research, several clinically relevant areas of bilirubin biochemistry remain controversial, poorly understood, or unrecognized. These include: (i) The structure and molecularity of bilirubin under physiological environments such as membranes, brain tissue and when bound to proteins. Related to this is the large number of structurally different bilirubin species that may occur in blood under pathological conditions and their potential effects on measurements of bilirubin and free bilirubin. (ii) The mechanism of phototherapy, the neurotoxicity of the photoisomers produced and their influence on measurements of bilirubin and free bilirubin. (iii) The role of membrane transporters in the passage of unconjugated bilirubin across the placenta, intestine, vascular epithelium, blood-brain barrier, and into the liver. (iv) Biochemical mechanisms of bilirubin toxicity, pharmacologic prevention of kernicterus, the contribution of bilirubin to antioxidant defenses, and the practical value of free bilirubin measurements for identifying infants at most risk of kernicterus.

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