Jaundiced babies undergoing phototherapy often develop diarrhoea. The cause of it is still uncertain. Increasing evidence supports a role of a secretory mechanism for the diarrhoea. We therefore studied the effects of bile from congenitally jaundiced rats undergoing phototherapy and of unconjugated bilirubin on rat small intestine in vivo and in vitro. Results suggest that: (1) the bile from homozygous Gunn rats under phototherapy has an anti-absorptive effect when tested in the perfused jejunum of normal Wistar rats; (2) unconjugated bilirubin has a dose dependent secretory effect on the intestinal transport of water and electrolytes, when tested in the same system. Alteration of cyclic AMP or cyclic GMP, known intracellular mediators of secretion, was not observed. We conclude that free bilirubin is an intestinal secretagogue acting by an as yet unknown mechanism, that may mediate the secretory type of diarrhoea in jaundiced neonates undergoing phototherapy.
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