Abstract

Bilirubin, the end product of heme catabolism in mammals, is generally regarded as a potentially cytotoxic, lipid-soluble waste product that needs to be excreted. However, it is here that bilirubin, at micromolar concentrations in vitro, efficiently scavenges peroxyl radicals generated chemically in either homogeneous solution or multilamellar liposomes. The antioxidant activity of bilirubin increases as the experimental concentration of oxygen is decreased from 20% (that of normal air) to 2% (physiologically relevant concentration). Furthermore, under 2% oxygen, in liposomes, bilirubin suppresses the oxidation more than alpha-tocopherol, which is regarded as the best antioxidant of lipid peroxidation. The data support the idea of a "beneficial" role for bilirubin as a physiological, chain-breaking antioxidant.

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