CAS number 635-65-4 YesY
PubChem 5280352
ChemSpider 4444055 YesY
ChEBI CHEBI:16990 YesY
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Molecular formula C33H36N4O6
Molar mass 584.66 g mol−1
Supplementary data page
Structure and
n, εr, etc.
Phase behaviour
Solid, liquid, gas
Spectral data UV, IR, NMR, MS
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Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Bilirubin (formerly referred to as hematoidin) is the yellow breakdown product of normal heme catabolism. Heme is found in hemoglobin, a principal component of red blood cells. Bilirubin is excreted in bile and urine, and elevated levels may indicate certain diseases. It is responsible for the yellow color of bruises, the yellow color of urine (via its reduced breakdown product, urobilin), the brown color of faeces (via its conversion to stercobilin), and the yellow discoloration in jaundice.

It has also been found in plants.[1]



Bilirubin consists of an open chain of four pyrrole-like rings (tetrapyrrole). In heme, by contrast, these four rings are connected into a larger ring, called a porphyrin ring.

Bilirubin is very similar to the pigment phycobilin used by certain algae to capture light energy, and to the pigment phytochrome used by plants to sense light. All of these contain an open chain of four pyrrolic rings.

Like these other pigments, some of the double-bonds in bilirubin isomerize when exposed to light. This is used in the phototherapy of jaundiced newborns: the E,E-isomer of bilirubin formed upon light exposure is more soluble than the unilluminated Z,Z-isomer.

Some textbooks and research articles show the incorrect geometric isomer of bilirubin.[2] The naturally occurring isomer is the Z,Z-isomer.


Bilirubin is created by the activity of biliverdin reductase on biliverdin, a green tetrapyrrolic bile pigment that is also a product of heme catabolism. Bilirubin, when oxidized, reverts to become biliverdin once again. This cycle, in addition to the demonstration of the potent antioxidant activity of bilirubin, has led to the hypothesis that bilirubin's main physiologic role is as a cellular antioxidant.[3][4]


Unconjugated (indirect)

Erythrocytes (red blood cells) generated in the bone marrow are disposed of in the spleen when they get old or damaged. This releases hemoglobin, which is broken down to heme as the globin parts are turned into amino acids. The heme is then turned into unconjugated bilirubin in the reticuloendothelial cells of the spleen. This unconjugated bilirubin is not soluble in water. It is then bound to albumin and sent to the liver.

Conjugated (direct)

In the liver it is conjugated with glucuronic acid by the enzyme glucuronyltransferase, making it soluble in water. Much of it goes into the bile and thus out into the small intestine. Some of the conjugated bilirubin remains in the large intestine and is metabolised by colonic bacteria to urobilinogen, which is further metabolized to stercobilinogen, and finally oxidised to stercobilin. This stercobilin gives feces its brown color. Some of the urobilinogen is reabsorbed and excreted in the urine along with an oxidized form, urobilin. Although the terms direct and indirect bilirubin are used equivalently with conjugated and unconjugated bilirubin, this is not quantitatively correct, because the direct fraction includes both conjugated bilirubin and δ bilirubin (bilirubin covalently bound to albumin, which appears in serum when hepatic excretion of conjugated bilirubin is impaired in patients with hepatobiliary disease). [5]


Under normal circumstances, a tiny amount of bilirubin is excreted in the urine if any. If the liver's function is impaired or when biliary drainage is blocked, some of the conjugated bilirubin leaks out of the hepatocytes and appears in the urine, turning it dark amber. However, in disorders involving hemolytic anemia, an increased number of red blood cells are broken down, causing an increase in the amount of unconjugated bilirubin in the blood. Because the unconjugated bilirubin is not water-soluble, one will not see an increase in bilirubin in the urine. Because there is no problem with the liver or bile systems, this excess unconjugated bilirubin will go through all of the normal processing mechanisms that occur (e.g., conjugation, excretion in bile, metabolism to urobilinogen, reabsorption) and will show up as an increase in urine urobilinogen. This difference between increased urine bilirubin and increased urine urobilinogen helps to distinguish between various disorders in those systems.


Unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia in a neonate can lead to accumulation of bilirubin in certain brain regions with consequent irreversible damage to these areas manifesting as various neurological deficits, seizures, abnormal reflexes and eye movements. This type of neurological injury is known as kernicterus. The neurotoxicity of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia manifests because the blood-brain barrier has yet to develop fully, and bilirubin can freely pass into the brain interstitium, whereas more developed individuals with increased bilirubin in the blood are protected. Aside from specific chronic medical conditions that may lead to hyperbilirubinaemia, neonates in general are at increased risk since they lack the intestinal bacteria that facilitate the breakdown and excretion of conjugated bilirubin in the feces (this is largely why the feces of a neonate are paler than those of an adult). Instead the conjugated bilirubin is converted back into the unconjugated form by the enzyme β-glucuronidase and a large proportion is reabsorbed through the enterohepatic circulation.

Blood tests

Bilirubin is broken down by light. Tubes containing blood or (especially) serum to be used in bilirubin assays should be protected from illumination.

Bilirubin (in blood) is in one of two forms:

Abb. Name(s) Water-soluble? Reaction
"BC" "Conjugated" or
"Direct bilirubin"
Yes (bound to glucuronic acid) Reacts quickly when dyes (diazo reagent) are added to the blood specimen to produce azobilirubin "Direct bilirubin"
"BU" "Unconjugated" or "Indirect bilirubin" No Reacts more slowly. Still produces azobilirubin. Ethanol makes all bilirubin react promptly then calc: Indirect bilirubin = Total bilirubin - Direct bilirubin

Total bilirubin ("TBIL") measures both BU and BC. Total and direct bilirubin levels can be measured from the blood, but indirect bilirubin is calculated from the total and direct bilirubin.

Indirect bilirubin is fat-soluble and direct bilirubin is water-soluble.

Measurement methods

Originally the Van den Bergh reaction was used for a qualitative estimate of bilirubin.

This test is performed routinely in most medical laboratories and can be measured by a variety of methods.[6]

Total bilirubin is now often measured by the 2,5-dichlorophenyldiazonium (DPD) method, and direct bilirubin is often measured by the method of Jendrassik and Grof.[7]

Blood levels

There are no normal levels of bilirubin as it is an excretion product, and levels found in the body reflects the balance between production and excretion. Different sources provide reference ranges that are similar but not identical. Some examples for adults are provided below (different reference ranges are often used for newborns):

umol/L mg/dL
total bilirubin 5.1–17.0[8] 0.2-1.9,[9]
direct bilirubin 1.0–5.1[8] 0-0.3,[9]
Reference ranges for blood tests, comparing blood content of bilirubin (shown in blue near center) with other constituents.


Hyperbilirubinemia is where the bilirubin level in the blood is higher than normal.

Mild rises in bilirubin may be caused by:

  • Hemolysis or increased breakdown of red blood cells
  • Gilbert's syndrome - a genetic disorder of bilirubin metabolism that can result in mild jaundice, found in about 5% of the population
  • Rotor syndrome: non-itching jaundice, with rise of bilirubin in the patient's serum, mainly of the conjugated type.

Moderate[clarification needed] rise in bilirubin may be caused by:

Sulfonamides are contraindicated in infants less than 2 months old (exception when used with pyrimethamine in treating toxoplasmosis) as they increase unconjugated bilirubin leading to kernicterus.[11]

Very high[clarification needed] levels of bilirubin may be caused by:

Cirrhosis may cause normal, moderately high or high levels of bilirubin, depending on exact features of the cirrhosis

To further elucidate the causes of jaundice or increased bilirubin, it is usually simpler to look at other liver function tests (especially the enzymes alanine transaminase, aspartate transaminase, gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase, alkaline phosphatase), blood film examination (hemolysis, etc.) or evidence of infective hepatitis (e.g., hepatitis A, B, C, delta, E, etc.).


Jaundice may be noticeable in the sclera (white) of the eyes at levels of about 2 to 3 mg/dL (34 to 51 μmol/L),[12] and in the skin at higher levels.

Jaundice is classified depending upon whether the bilirubin is free or conjugated to glucuronic acid into conjugated jaundice or unconjugated jaundice.[citation needed]

Urine tests

Urine levels of bilirubin may also be clinically significant.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Pirone, C; Quirke, JME; Priestap, HA; Lee, DW (March 2009). "The Animal Pigment Bilirubin Discovered in Plants". Journal of the American Chemical Society 131 (8): 2830. doi:10.1021/ja809065g. PMC 2880647. PMID 19206232. 
  2. ^ "Bilirubin's Chemical Formula". Retrieved 2007-08-14. 
  3. ^ Baranano DE, Rao M, Ferris CD, Snyder SH (2002). "Biliverdin reductase: A major physiologic cytoprotectant". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99 (25): 16093–8. Bibcode 2002PNAS...9916093B. doi:10.1073/pnas.252626999. PMC 138570. PMID 12456881. 
  4. ^ Liu Y, Li P, Lu J, Xiong W, Oger J, Tetzlaff W, Cynader M. (2008). "Bilirubin possesses powerful immunomodulatory activity and suppresses experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis". J. Immunol. 181 (3): 1887–97. PMID 18641326. 
  5. ^ Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics 18th Edition, chap.352
  6. ^ Watson D, Rogers JA (May 1961). "A study of six representative methods of plasma bilirubin analysis". J. Clin. Pathol. 14 (3): 271–8. doi:10.1136/jcp.14.3.271. PMC 480210. PMID 13783422. 
  7. ^ Rolinski B, Küster H, Ugele B, Gruber R, Horn K (1 October 2001). "Total bilirubin measurement by photometry on a blood gas analyzer: potential for use in neonatal testing at the point of care". Clin. Chem. 47 (10): 1845–7. PMID 11568098. 
  8. ^ a b c d Golonka, Debby. "Digestive Disorders Health Center: Bilirubin". WebMD. pp. 3. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  9. ^ a b MedlinePlus Encyclopedia CHEM-20
  10. ^ a b "Laboratory tests". Retrieved 2007-08-14. 
  11. ^ Sulfonamides: Bacteria and Antibacterial Drugs: Merck Manual Professional
  12. ^ Merck Manual Jaundice Last full review/revision July 2009 by Steven K. Herrine
  13. ^ MedlinePlus Encyclopedia Bilirubin - urine

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Bilirubin — (Gallenrot), ein rotbrauner Gallenfarbstoff (s. Galle) von der Zusammensetzung C16H18N2O3. Das Bilirubin ist ein lebhaft rotes Pulver, oder es erscheint kristallisiert in mikroskopischen, deutlich ausgebildeten rhombischen Tafeln. Es besitzt ein… …   Lexikon der gesamten Technik

  • bilirubin — reddish pigment found in bile, 1871, from Ger. bilirubin (1864), from bili (see BILE (Cf. bile)) + L. ruber red (see RED (Cf. red)) + INE (Cf. ine) (2) …   Etymology dictionary

  • bilirubin — bilirùbīn m <G bilirubína> DEFINICIJA biol. C33H36O6N4, narančastocrveni pigment u žuči sisavaca, nastaje razgradnjom hemoglobina u jetrima, kod oboljenja od žutice pojavljuje se u mokraći i krvi ETIMOLOGIJA njem. Bilirubin ≃ lat. bilis:… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Bilirubin — Bil i*ru bin, n. [L. bilis biel + ruber red.] (Physiol.) A reddish yellow pigment present in human bile, and in that from carnivorous and herbivorous animals; the normal biliary pigment. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • bilirubin — bilirubin. См. билирубин. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

  • Bilirubīn — Bilirubīn, s. Galle …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Bilirubin — ⇒ Gallenfarbstoffe …   Deutsch wörterbuch der biologie

  • bilirubin — [bil΄i ro͞o′bin] n. [ModL < L bilis, bile + ruber,RED + IN1] the yellowish red chief pigment, C33H36N4O6, of human bile, derived from biliverdin and found in small quantities in blood and urine: high concentrations change the color of blood… …   English World dictionary

  • Bilirubin — Strukturformel deprotonierte Form des Bilirubins (unter physiologischen Bedingungen) Allgemeines …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • bilirubin — /bil euh rooh bin, bil euh rooh bin/, n. Biochem. a reddish bile pigment, C33H36O6N4, resulting from the degradation of heme by reticuloendothelial cells in the liver: a high level in the blood produces the yellow skin symptomatic of jaundice. [… …   Universalium

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