Impact of higher-order heme degradation products on hepatic function and hemodynamics

Raphael A. Seidel, Thierry Claudel, Franziska A. Schleser, Navin K. Ojha, Matthias Westerhausen, Sandor Nietzsche, Christoph Sponholz, Frans Cuperus, Sina M. Coldewey, Stefan H. Heinemann, Georg Pohnert, Michael Trauner, Michael Bauer*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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    Background & Aims: Biliverdin and bilirubin were previously considered end products of heme catabolism; now, however, there is evidence for further degradation to diverse bioactive products. Z-BOX A and Z-BOX B arise upon oxidation with unknown implications for hepatocellular function and integrity. We studied the impact of Z-BOX A and B on hepatic functions and explored their alterations in health and cholestatic conditions.

    Methods: Functional implications and mechanisms were investigated in rats, hepatocytic HepG2 and HepaRG cells, human immortalized hepatocytes, and isolated perfused livers. Z-BOX A and B were determined by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) in acute and acute-on-chronic liver failure and hereditary unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia.

    Results: Z-BOX A and B are found in similar amounts in humans and rodents under physiological conditions. Serum concentrations increased similar to 20-fold during cholestatic liver failure in humans (p <0.001) and in hereditary deficiency of bilirubin glucuronidation in rats (p <0.001). Pharmacokinetic studies revealed shorter serum half-life of Z-BOX A compared to its regio-isomer Z-BOX B (p = 0.035). While both compounds were taken up by hepatocytes, Z-BOX A was enriched similar to 100-fold and excreted in bile. Despite their reported vasoconstrictive properties in the brain vasculature, BOXes did not affect portal hemodynamics. Both Z-BOX A and B showed dose-dependent cytotoxicity, affected the glutathione redox state, and differentially modulated activity of Rev-erba and Rev-erbb. Moreover, BOXes-triggered remodeling of the hepatocellular cytoskeleton.

    Conclusions: Our data provide evidence that higher-order heme degradation products, namely Z-BOX A and B, impair hepatocellular integrity and might mediate intra-and extrahepatic cytotoxic effects previously attributed to hyperbilirubinemia.

    Lay summary: Degradation of the blood pigment heme yields the bile pigment bilirubin and the oxidation products Z-BOX A and Z-BOX B. Serum concentrations of these bioactive molecules increase in jaundice and can impair liver function and integrity. Amounts of Z-BOX A and Z-BOX B that are observed during liver failure in humans have profound effects on hepatic function when added to cultured liver cells or infused into healthy rats. (C) 2017 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)272-281
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Hepatology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Aug-2017


    • Heme degradation
    • Bilirubin oxidation end products (BOXes)
    • Bilirubin toxicity
    • Rev-erb
    • Glutathione
    • Cholestasis
    • Hemodynamics
    • Pharmacokinetics
    • Cytoskeleton
    • Reactive oxygen species
    • Z-BOX B
    • BETA

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