In lead intoxication photosensitivity is usually absent, despite concentrations of protoporphyrin in the erythrocytes equal to or greater than in erythropoietic protoporphyria. Profound differences in the distribution of protoporphyrin in aging erythrocytes were demonstrated by age-dependent fractionation of cells on discontinuous density gradients. In erythropoietic protoporphyria the concentration of protoporphyrin declined extremely rapidly with erythrocyte age; the bulk of the protoporphyrin was lost in less than 3 days and the concentration of fluorescent erythrocytes in the gradient paralleled the decline of protoporphyrin. In lead intoxication the protoporphyrin concentration declined only slightly with cell aging and erythrocytes of all ages fluoresced. In the bone marrow from a patient with erythropoietic protoporphyria all reticulocytes, but only occasional late normoblasts, fluoresced, suggesting a single population. Sterile incubation in plasma (pH 7.5) demonstrated rapid diffusion of protoporphyrin from the erythrocytes in erythropoietic protoporphyria, but not in lead intoxication. Plasma protoporphyrin was elevated in erythropoietic protoporphyria, but not in lead intoxication. Estimates of the daily loss of protoporphyrin from erythropoietic tissue in erythropoietic proporphyria suggested an order of magnitude similar to the total blood protoporphyrin. Therefore, it is not necessary to postulate a preponderant extraerythropoietic source to explain the amount of fecal excretion. A significant amount of the diffused protoporphyrin probably reaches the skin with resulting photosensitivity. In contrast, in lead intoxication protoporphyrin remains within the erythrocyte throughout its life span ; there is no diffusion into the plasma and hence no photosensitivity.
S Piomelli, A A Lamola, M F Poh-Fitzpatrick, C Seaman, L C Harber