In sickle cell anemia the shortened survival of red blood cells presents the liver with an augmented load of bilirubin for hepatic clearance. To determine the effects of this excessive bilirubin load on the microsomal conjugating enzyme, hepatic bilirubin UDP-glucuronyltransferase, levels of this enzyme were measured in liver biopsies from patients with sickle cell anemia and several comparison groups. UDP-glucuronyltransferase activity in 14 patients with sickle cell anemia was 2-fold greater (P < 0.005) than in 14 nonjaundiced comparison patients without liver disease. The elevated UDP-glucuronyltransferase activity in sickle cell anemia was similar to that found in 10 patients who chronically ingested drugs (barbiturates or estrogens) known to increase UDP-glucuronyltransferase activity. These obseverations suggest enhanced conjugation of bilirubin in patients with sickle cell anemia may result from substrate (bilirubin) induction of UDP-glycuronyltransferase.
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