The activity of heme synthetase, which catalyzes the chelation of ferrous iron to protoporphyrin to form heme, is deficient in sonicates of skin fibroblasts cultured from patients with protoporphyria. During culture in Eagle's medium supplemented with fetal calf serum, these cells do not accumulate protoporphyrin, however. This may be due to a minimal requirement for heme synthesis, since glycine is incorporated into heme at a low rate which is similar to that in normal fibroblasts. In addition, the activity of delta-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) synthetase, the first and rate-limiting enzyme of heme biosynthesis which catalyzes the formation of ALA from glycine, is normal in lysates of the fibroblasts. Cultured fibroblasts were therefore incubated with ALA in order to bypass the rate-limiting step of heme biosynthesis. In the presence of 25 muM iron, protoporphyrin was detected in protoporphyria cell lines when the concentration of ALA in the medium reached 50 muM, but not in normal lines. As the concentration of ALA was increased above 50 muM, all lines accumulated protoporphyrin. However, the amount was 2-3 times more in cultured fibroblasts from patients with protoporphyria, reflecting their deficiency of heme synthetase activity. When iron was not added to the medium, protoporphyrin accumulated to a similar degree in normal and protoporphyria fibroblasts; this was significantly more than that in the presence of iron. These studies indicate that excessive protoporphyrin accumulation in protoporphyria, which is due principally to deficient heme synthetase activity, may be modified by the rate of ALA formation in heme-producing tissues, and by the availability of iron.
J R Bloomer, D A Brenner, M J Mahoney