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J Perinatol. 2001 Dec;21 Suppl 1:S17-20; discussion S35-9.

The biology of bilirubin production.

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Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University, 750 Welch Road #315, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA.


Heme oxygenase (HO), the rate-limiting enzyme in bilirubin production, has been identified from the late 1960s. This enzyme has been shown to have many other roles in recent years. The inducible form is regulated by oxidative stress, inflammation, and heavy metals, among others, and is cytoprotective in many instance. Nonetheless, there are instances when HO-1 can be deleterious due to the release of iron from the reaction. Another important by-product, carbon monoxide, is a vasodilator and a neurotransmitter and has been implicated in signal transduction pathways. More recently, nonenzymatic, signaling roles of HO have been suggested. This may serve to regulate the endogenous activity of this enzyme when cellular heme levels are low.

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