The present study was performed to elucidate why the photochemical reaction of (ZZ)-bilirubin bound to human serum albumin is singularly selective, and only one of the two (EZ)- and (ZE)-bilirubins, the (ZE)-isomer, is produced. In a kinetic study of the photochemical reaction in vitro, the sum of the relative rate constants of photochemical transformation of (EZ)-bilirubin into both (EZ)-cyclobilirubin and (ZZ)-bilirubin, with a significant preference for the former, was proved to be considerably larger than that of the transformation of (ZZ)-bilirubin into (EZ)-bilirubin. Therefore only one of the geometrical isomers, namely (ZE)-bilirubin, is apparently formed. It was concluded that (EZ)-bilirubin photochemically undergoes (EZ)-cyclization, i.e. structural photoisomerization, while bound to its high-affinity site on human serum albumin, and is an intermediate in the transformation of (ZZ)-bilirubin into (EZ)-cyclobilirubin.

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