Bile porphyrin analysis in the evaluation of variegate porphyria

George M. Logan, Mary K. Weimer, Joseph R. Bloomer, Claus Pierach

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33 Scopus citations


Variegate porphyria is a genetic disorder of porphyrin metabolism in which patients may have both neurologic dysfunction and photocutaneous lesions. Biochemical confirmation of the diagnosis can be difficult, particularly in patients without neurologic dysfunction at the time of testing. The demonstration of increased fecal excretion of porphyrin is frequently used for this purpose, but levels may be normal. Since elevated fecal porphyrin levels in variegate porphyria are presumably a consequence of increased biliary excretion, we evaluated whether analysis of porphyrins in bile distinguishes better between patients with variegate porphyria and controls. Bile samples were collected by duodenal aspiration from 10 patients with proved variegate porphyria who had no neurologic symptoms when they were studied and 17 control subjects. Bile and fecal porphyrin levels were measured fluorometrically. The mean total porphyrin concentration in bile in the patients with variegate porphyria was significantly higher than that in the controls (67.8 vs. 0.71 μmol per liter; P<0.00002). There was more than a ninefold difference between the highest level in any control subject and the lowest level in any patient with variegate porphyria. The mean fecal porphyrin level in the patients with variegate porphyria also differed significantly from that in the controls (0.79 vs. 0.14 μmol per gram of dry weight; P<0.007), but four patients had levels within the control range. The concentration of porphyrin in bile is higher in patients with variegate porphyria than in controls, and the difference is greater than that for fecal porphyrin. Bile porphyrin measurements may be helpful in the evaluation of asymptomatic patients suspected of having variegate porphyria. (N Engl J Med 1991; 324:1408-11.)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1408-1411
Number of pages4
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 16 1991

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