What causes conjugated hyperbilirubinemia?

Updated: Jul 31, 2019
  • Author: Richard A Weisiger, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Answer

Bilirubin is a tetrapyrrole produced by the normal breakdown of heme. Most bilirubin is produced during the breakdown of hemoglobin and other hemoproteins. Accumulation of bilirubin or its conjugates in body tissues produces jaundice (ie, icterus), which is characterized by high plasma bilirubin levels and deposition of yellow bilirubin pigments in the skin, sclerae, mucous membranes, and other less visible tissues. [1, 2, 3, 4]

Because bilirubin is highly insoluble in water, it must be converted into a soluble conjugate before elimination from the body. In the liver, uridine diphosphate (UDP)-glucuronyl transferase converts bilirubin to a mixture of monoglucuronides and diglucuronides, referred to as conjugated bilirubin, which is then secreted into the bile by an ATP-dependent transporter. This process is highly efficient under normal conditions, so plasma unconjugated bilirubin concentrations remain low.


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