Send to

Choose Destination
Chem Biol Interact. 2001 Jul 31;137(1):59-74.

Prooxidant and antioxidant activities of bilirubin and its metabolic precursor biliverdin: a structure-activity study.

Author information

Department of Biochemistry, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh-202 002, India.


Bilirubin, which is derived from its metabolic precursor biliverdin, is the end product of heme catabolism. It has been proposed as a physiological antioxidant present in human extracellular fluids. We have earlier shown that bilirubin in the presence of the transition metal ion Cu(II) causes strand cleavage in DNA through generation of reactive oxygen species, particularly the hydroxyl radical. Thus bilirubin possesses both antioxidant and prooxidant properties. In order to understand the chemical basis of various biological properties of bilirubin, we have studied the structure-activity relationship between bilirubin and its precursor biliverdin. The latter has also been reported to possess both antioxidant and toxic properties. In the present studies bilirubin was found to be more effective in the DNA cleavage reaction and a more efficient reducer of Cu(II). The rate of formation of hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals by the compounds also showed a similar pattern. The relative antioxidant activity was also examined by studying the effect of these compounds on DNA cleavage by a hydroxyl radical generating system and their quenching effect on hydroxyl radicals. The results indicate that bilirubin is more active both as an antioxidant as well as an oxidative DNA cleaving agent. A model for binding of copper to bilirubin has been proposed where two copper ions are bound to two molecules of bilirubin through their terminal pyrrole nitrogens. In order to account for the enhanced copper reducing capacity of bilirubin we have further proposed that an additional copper binding site is provided for in the case of bilirubin due to the absence of a double bond between pyrrole rings II and III. Further it would appear that the structural features of the bilirubin molecule which are important for its prooxidant action are also the ones that render it a more effective antioxidant.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center