Porphyrin-Induced Protein Oxidation and Aggregation as a Mechanism of Porphyria-Associated Cell Injury

Dhiman Maitra, Juliana Bragazzi Cunha, Jared S Elenbaas, Herbert L Bonkovsky, Jordan A Shavit, Bishr Omary

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Article or Literature Reviewpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Genetic porphyrias comprise eight diseases caused by defects in the heme biosynthetic pathway that lead to accumulation of heme precursors. Consequences of porphyria include photosensitivity, liver damage and increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, and neurovisceral involvement, including seizures. Fluorescent porphyrins that include protoporphyrin-IX, uroporphyrin and coproporphyrin, are photo-reactive; they absorb light energy and are excited to high-energy singlet and triplet states. Decay of the porphyrin excited to ground state releases energy and generates singlet oxygen. Porphyrin-induced oxidative stress is thought to be the major mechanism of porphyrin-mediated tissue damage. Although this explains the acute photosensitivity in most porphyrias, light-induced porphyrin-mediated oxidative stress does not account for the effect of porphyrins on internal organs. Recent findings demonstrate the unique role of fluorescent porphyrins in causing subcellular compartment-selective protein aggregation. Porphyrin-mediated protein aggregation associates with nuclear deformation, cytoplasmic vacuole formation and endoplasmic reticulum dilation. Porphyrin-triggered proteotoxicity is compounded by inhibition of the proteasome due to aggregation of some of its subunits. The ensuing disruption in proteostasis also manifests in cell cycle arrest coupled with aggregation of cell proliferation-related proteins, including PCNA, cdk4 and cyclin B1. Porphyrins bind to native proteins and, in presence of light and oxygen, oxidize several amino acids, particularly methionine. Noncovalent interaction of oxidized proteins with porphyrins leads to formation of protein aggregates. In internal organs, particularly the liver, light-independent porphyrin-mediated protein aggregation occurs after secondary triggers of oxidative stress. Thus, porphyrin-induced protein aggregation provides a novel mechanism for external and internal tissue damage in porphyrias that involve fluorescent porphyrin accumulation.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)535–548
Number of pages14
JournalCellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


  • Protein Aggregation
  • phototoxicity
  • Porphyria

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