Two routes have been proposed for conversion of bilirubin monoglucuronide to the diglucuronide: glucuronyl transfer (a) from UDP-glucuronic acid to bilirubin monoglucuronide, catalyzed by a microsomal UDP-glucuronyltransferase, and (b) from one molecule of bilirubin monoglucuronide to another (transglucuronidation), catalyzed by an enzyme present in liver plasma membranes. The evidence regarding the role of the latter enzyme for in vivo formation of bilirubin diglucuronide is conflicting. We therefore decided to reexamine the transglucuronidation reaction in plasma membranes and to study the conversion of bilirubin monoglucuronide to diglucuronide in vivo. Purified bilirubin monoglucuronide was incubated with homogenates and plasma membrane-enriched fractions from liver of Wistar and Gunn rats. Stoichiometric formation of bilirubin and bilirubin diglucuronide out of 2 mol of bilirubin monoglucuronide was paralleled by an increase of the IIIα- and XIIIα-isomers of the bilirubin aglycone, thus showing that dipyrrole exchange, not transglucuronidation, is the underlying mechanism. Complete inhibition by ascorbic acid probably reflects intermediate formation of free radicals of dipyrrolic moieties. The reaction was nonenzymic because it proceeded independently of the protein concentration and heat denaturation of the plasma membranes did not result in decreased conversion rates. Collectively, these findings show spontaneous, nonenzymic dipyrrole exchange when bilirubin monoglucuronide is incubated in the presence of rat liver plasma membranes. Because bilirubin glucuronides present in biological fluids contain exclusively the bilirubin-IXα aglycone, formation of the diglucuronide from the monoglucuronide by dipyrrole exchange does not occur in vivo. Rapid excretion of unchanged bilirubin monoglucuronide in Gunn rat bile after injection of the pigment provides confirmatory evidence for the absence of a UDP-glucuronic acid-independent process.
Andreas Sieg, Gustaaf P. Van Hees, Karel P. M. Heirwegh