1. The purpose of this study was to characterize the mechanisms of diet-induced hyperbilirubinaemia in Gunn rats with emphasis on the role of lipids, and to examine their relationship with regard to fasting hyperbilirubinaemia.

2. A lipid-free normocaloric diet produced a threefold increase in plasma bilirubin concentration (baseline 109.4 μmol/l), which was maximal by 10 days and thereafter remained constant. The level of hyperbilirubinaemia attained was not influenced by fasting or phenobarbitone, and returned to baseline concentration within 10 days of resuming a normal diet.

3. Determination of hepatic bilirubin showed that the magnitude of the hepatic bilirubin pool was increased by the lipid-free diet but was unchanged by fasting. Hepatic ligandin concentrations were comparable in fasted Gunn rats and those fed normal or lipid-free diets, although total hepatic ligandin was reduced in the fasted animals.

4. The hyperbilirubinaemic effect of the lipid-free diet was largely reversed by the inclusion of 10% lipid in the diet and was affected to a lesser extent by 5% lipid. Similar reductions in plasma bilirubin concentration were observed with a variety of other lipids (10%), regardless of their fatty acid chain length or degree of saturation.

5. In fasting animals a direct correlation was observed between plasma bilirubin and free fatty acid concentrations and insulin levels were greatly depressed, whereas in those fed on the lipid-free diet no significant changes were evident in plasma concentrations of free fatty acids or insulin.

6. Plasma bilirubin concentration was unrelated to alterations in plasma triglycerides produced by the administration of clofibrate. However, an unexplained decrease in plasma bilirubin (40%) without a significant change in triglycerides was noted when clofibrate was added to the lipid-free diet.

7. Analysis of kinetic data obtained from [14C]bilirubin clearance studies revealed that hyperbilirubinaemia associated with the lipid-free diet reflected a marked reduction (60%) in plasma clearance with no change in bilirubin turnover. This was accompanied by a relative redistribution of bilirubin from the extravascular pool to the plasma pool.

8. Although these studies indicate that fasting and the withdrawal of dietary lipid have some similar effects on bilirubin metabolism, it seems likely that different mechanisms are responsible for the hyperbilirubinaemia.

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