To elucidate the mechanism by which phototherapy reduces serum bilirubin, studies were performed on the catabolism of labeled bilirubin in homozygous jaundiced Gunn rats before, during, and after a period of exposure to 1700 foot candles of daylight fluorescent light. Following equilibration with the body pool of an intravenously administered tracer dose of 3H- or 14C-bilirubin, radioactive and diazo reactive compounds were excreted in the bile at a slow, steady rate and plasma specific activity declined semilogarithmically. Subsequent exposure to light caused a marked increase in the biliary excretion of radioactive and diazoreactive compounds. Fecal and urinary radioactivity increased also but remained minor fractions of the total excreted radioactivity. After extinguishing the lights, these variables reverted gradually to control values. Spectral and chromotographic analysis of the excreted pigments and their azopigments demonstrated that the increased biliary radioactivity during phototherapy consisted of two roughly equal fractions: (a) unconjugated bilirubin, excreted at rates comparable to the output of conjugated bilirubin in the bile of normal nonjaundiced rats; and (b) water-soluble bilirubin derivatives, chromatographically identical with those found in Gunn rat bile under control lighting conditions but different from the products of photodecomposition of bilirubin in vitro. In some animals, phototherapy produced little decline in plasma bilirubin despite comparable acceleration of bilirubin catabolism. This was attributed tentatively to increased synthesis of early labeled bilirubin in these animals.
J. Donald Ostrow