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Event Title

Uroporphyria, N/A
Short name: Uroporphyria, N/A

Key Event Overview

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AOPs Including This Key Event

AOP Name Event Type Essentiality
AhR activation leading to uroporphyria AO

Taxonomic Applicability

Name Scientific Name Evidence Links

Affected Organs

Synonym Scientific Name Evidence Links

Level of Biological Organization

Biological Organization

How this Key Event works

Figure 1: The heme biosynthetic pathway. Deficiency in a particular gene along the pathway results in the indicated form of porphyria: 8 separate disorders that are characterized by hepatic accumulation and increased excretion of porphyrins. Source: Frank, J., and Poblete-Gutierrez, P. (2010) Porphyria cutanea tarda--when skin meets liver. Best. Pract. Res. Clin Gastroenterol. 24 (5), 735-745.

Porphyria is a disorder in which the disturbance of heme biosynthesis results in accumulation and excretion of porphyrins[1]. A variety of porphyrias exist depending on which enzyme in the pathway is deficient (Figure 1). In the case of chemically induced porphyria, uroporphyrinogen decarboxylase (UROD), which converts uroporphyrinogen to coproporphyrinogen, is inhibited. The phase I metabolizing enzyme CYP1A2/CYP1A5 is believed to catalyzes the oxidation of uroporphyrinogen to uroporphyrin, leading to uroporphyrin accumulation and liver damage[2][3]. In humans, this disorder is known as porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) and may be caused by chemical exposure or a hereditary deficiency in UROD[4]. The accumulation of porphyrins in the liver causes cirrhosis, mild fatty infiltration, patchy focal necrosis, and inflammation of portal tracts. When the activity of UROD is reduced to less than 30% of normal, the disorder manifests as an overt skin disease; the accumulation of porphyrins in the skin causes photosensitization that is characterized by fragile skin, superficial erosions, sub-epidermal bullae, hypertrichosis, patchy pigmentation and scarring[5].

How it is Measured or Detected

Porphyria is easily confirmed through a urinary or fecal analysis to measure the levels and pattern of excreted porphyrins. Samples are quantified using a high-performance liquid chromatograph equipped with a fluorescence detector[6]. Frank and Poblete-Gutiérrez[4] illustrate how the types of porphyria can be differentiated by the relative abundance of different porphyrins (Figure 2). Uroporphyria is the animal model equivalent to human porphyria cutanea tard [5]

Figure 2: Biochemical characteristics of the porphyrias in urine, stool, and blood (plasma and erythrocytes). Source: http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/articles/communique/2015/03-porphyria-testing/; Accessed December 9, 2015

Evidence Supporting Taxonomic Applicability

Chemical-induced uroporphyria has only been detected in birds[7][1][8] and mammals[5] , including an accidental outbreak in humans due to hexachlorobenzen-contaminated grain in the 1950s[9]. Fish are less susceptible to chemical-induced uroporphyria, but elevated levels of HCP have been documented in highly contaminated environments[10].

Differences in avian species sensitivity to chemical-induced porphyrin accumulation have been observed. Common tern embryo hepatocyte cultures did not accumulate porphyrins in response to dioxin-like compound (DLC) exposure and were 50 to over 1600 times less sensitive than chicken embryo hepatocyte cultures to DLC-mediated CYP1A induction[11]. Porphyrin accumulation in ring-necked pheasant embryo hepatocyte cultures following PCDD, PCDF and PCB exposure was also significantly less than that observed in chicken embryo hepatocytes[12]. These results are consistent with the predicted species sensitivity based on AHR1 sequence, as ring-necked pheasants are type 2 (Ile324_Ala380; moderately sensitive), and common terns are type 3 (Val324_Ala380; least sensitive) species[13][14][15].


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kennedy, S. W., and Fox, G. A. (1990). Highly carboxylated porphyrins as a biomarker of polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbon exposure in wildlife: Confirmation of their presence in Great Lakes herring gull chicks in the early 1970s and important methodological details. Chemosphere 21, 407-415.
  2. Rifkind, A. B. (2006). CYP1A in TCDD toxicity and in physiology - With particular reference to CYP dependent arachidonic acid metabolism and other endogenous substrates. Drug Metabolism Reviews 38, 291-335.
  3. Smith, A. G., Clothier, B., Carthew, P., Childs, N. L., Sinclair, P. R., Nebert, D. W., and Dalton, T. P. (2001). Protection of the Cyp1a2(-/-) null mouse against uroporphyria and hepatic injury following exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. Toxicol.Appl.Pharmacol. 173, 89-98.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Frank, J., and Poblete-Gutierrez, P. (2010) Porphyria cutanea tarda--when skin meets liver. Best. Pract. Res. Clin Gastroenterol. 24(5), 735-745.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Smith, A. G., and Elder, G. H. (2010) Complex gene-chemical interactions: hepatic uroporphyria as a paradigm. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 23 (4), 712-723.
  6. Kennedy, S. W., Wigfield, D. C., and Fox, G. A. (1986). Tissue porphyrin pattern determination by high-speed high-performance liquid chromatography. Anal. Biochem. 157 (1), 1-7.
  7. Fox, G. A., Norstrom, R. J., Wigfield, D. C., and Kennedy, S. W. (1988) Porphyria in herring gulls: A biochemical response to chemical contamination of great lakes food chains. ‘’Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’’ ‘’’7’’’ (10), 831-839
  8. Kennedy, S. W., Fox, G. A., Trudeau, S. F., Bastien, L. J., and Jones, S. P. (1998) Highly carboxylated porphyrin concentration: A biochemical marker of PCB exposure in herring gulls. Marine Environmental Research 46 (1-5), 65-69.
  9. Cripps, D. J., Peters, H. A., Gocmen, A., and Dogramici, I. (1984) Porphyria turcica due to hexachlorobenzene: a 20 to 30 year follow-up study on 204 patients. Br. J Dermatol. 111 (4), 413-422.
  10. Wainwright, J. S., Hopkins, K. M., Bums Jr., T.A., and Di Giulio, R. T. (1995) Investigation of potential biomarkers of exposure to bleached kraft mill effluent in North Carolina rivers. Durham, NC.
  11. Lorenzen, A., Shutt, J. L., and Kennedy, S. W. (1997b). Sensitivity of common tern (Sterna hirundo) embryo hepatocyte cultures to CYP1A induction and porphyrin accumulation by halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons and common tern egg extracts. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 32, 126-134.
  12. Lorenzen, A., and Kennedy, S. W. (1995). Sensitivities of Chicken and Pheasant Embryos and Cultured Embryonic Hepatocytes to Cytochrome P4501A Induction and Porphyrin Accumulation by TCDD, TCDF and PCBs. Organohalogen Compounds 25, 65-68.
  13. Farmahin, R., Manning, G. E., Crump, D., Wu, D., Mundy, L. J., Jones, S. P., Hahn, M. E., Karchner, S. I., Giesy, J. P., Bursian, S. J., Zwiernik, M. J., Fredricks, T. B., and Kennedy, S. W. (2013b). Amino acid sequence of the ligand binding domain of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor 1 (AHR1) predicts sensitivity of wild birds to effects of dioxin-like compounds. Toxicol.Sci. 131, 139-152.
  14. Head, J. A., Hahn, M. E., and Kennedy, S. W. (2008). Key amino acids in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor predict dioxin sensitivity in avian species. Environ.Sci.Technol. 42, 7535-7541.
  15. Manning, G. E., Farmahin, R., Crump, D., Jones, S. P., Klein, J., Konstantinov, A., Potter, D., and Kennedy, S. W. (2012). A luciferase reporter gene assay and aryl hydrocarbon receptor 1 genotype predict the embryolethality of polychlorinated biphenyls in avian species. Toxicol.Appl.Pharmacol. 263, 390-399.