The effect of bilirubin on the function of hamster small intestine

Peter F. Whitington*, Ward A. Olsen, Gerard B. Odell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Jaundice phototherapy is associated with a significant incidence of watery diarrhea. We have postulated that acute intestinal secretion, rather than malabsorption of dietary carbohydrate, is an effect of a photoproduct of bilirubin upon the intestinal mucosa. Because a major effect of phototherapy is the hepatic excretion of nonconjugated bilirubin, we investigated the effect of bilirubin on small intestinal function in the hamster in vivo. The entire small intestine was luminally perfused in vivo with solutions containing bilirubin (0.125 to 0.75 mmole/liter) and net water and sodium fluxes weFe measured. Control animals absorbed both water (J(Formula Presented)= 58.9 μl/min/g) and sodium (J(Formula Presented)= 4.55 μEq/ min/g), but animals perfused with bilirubin (≥ 0.25 mmole/liter) exhibited secretion of water (J(Formula Presented) = -39.0- - 85.9) and sodium (J(Formula Presented) = -9.91 - -18.24). The rate of water secretion was positively related to the concentration of bilirubin in the infusate (r = 0.749; P < 0.001). The concentration of bilirubin in ultrafiltrates of perfusate was likewise positively related to its concentration in the infusate (r = 0.844; P< 0.001), indicating the potential importance of soluble forms of bilirubin in inducing secretion. Possible epithelial injury was studied by measuring the concentration of DNA in the perfusate and the activity of disaccharidases in postperfusion mucosa, and the possible role of cyclic adenosine monophosphate as a mediator of the secretory process was investigated by determining its concentration in postperfusion mucosa. Perfusion with 0.5 mM bilirubin, which produced significant secretion, did not cause loss of DNA (0.284 versus 0.244 mg/liter) or mucosal lactase activity (56 versus 53 units/g) or enhancement of cyclic adenosine monophosphate concentration (14.9 versus 14.12 pmoles/mg protein). Speculation These data seem consistent with the hypothesis that jaundice phototherapy causes watery diarrhea by enhancing the hepatic excretion of nonconjugated bilirubin, which, in turn, causes intestinal secretion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1009-1014
Number of pages6
JournalPediatric research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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