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Front Pharmacol. 2012 Jun 22;3:115. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2012.00115. eCollection 2012.

Evaluating the beneficial and detrimental effects of bile pigments in early and later life.

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Division of Neonatology, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Philadelphia, PA, USA.


The heme degradation pathway has been conserved throughout phylogeny and allows for the removal of a pro-oxidant and the generation of unique molecules including bile pigments with important cellular functions. The impact of bile pigments on health and disease are reviewed, as is the special circumstance of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. In addition, the importance of promoter polymorphisms in the UDP-glucuronosyl transferase gene (UGTA1), which is key to the elimination of excess bilirubin and to the prevention of its toxicity, are discussed. Overall, the duality of bile pigments as either cytoprotective or toxic molecules is highlighted.


UDP-glucuronyltransferase; antioxidant; kernicterus; neonatal jaundice; polymorphisms

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