Sn(tin4+)-protoporphyrin, a potent competitive inhibitor of haeme oxygenase, the rate limiting enzyme in the degradation of haeme to bile pigments, was given intravenously to six patients with primary biliary cirrhosis and to four patients with idiopathic haemochromatosis. Serum bilirubin concentrations decreased in all patients after administration of 1-2 mumol/kg body weight of the metalloporphyrin, given in two doses eight to 24 hours apart. This reduction lasted approximately four to five days after injection of the compound. Excretion of endogenous haeme in bile increased (mean increase approximately two to threefold) in parallel with the decrease in serum bilirubin concentrations in both patient groups, and the highest biliary haeme concentrations were found during the first 48 hours after treatment. Sn-protoporphyrin was cleared rapidly from plasma with a half-life of 3.4 hours. Biliary bilirubin concentrations decreased (mean decrease, 49%) in the haemochromatosis patients after Sn-protoporphyrin administration. No decrease in biliary bilirubin concentrations could be detected in the primary biliary cirrhosis patients under the same conditions. Thus, Sn-protoporphyrin treatment resulted in a decrease in serum bilirubin concentrations and an increase in biliary haeme excretion in patients with haemochromatosis and primary biliary cirrhosis, as has previously been shown in normal subjects. The results indicate that the synthetic haeme analogue inhibits haeme oxidation activity in the two patient groups studied, as it does in normal people and in experimental animals. The lack of effect of Sn-protoporphyrin on biliary bilirubin excretion in primary biliary cirrhosis may be related to a differently affected hepatic clearance system or to a different distribution of tissue bilirubin pools in this condition.
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