Porphyrias and photosensitivity: pathophysiology for the clinician
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Porphyrias are disorders caused by defects in the biosynthetic pathway of heme. Their manifestations can be divided into three distinct syndromes, each attributable to the accumulation of three distinct classes of molecules. The acute neurovisceral syndrome is caused by the accumulation of the neurotoxic porphyrin precursors, delta aminolevulinic acid, and porphobilinogenthe syndrome of immediate painful photosensitivity is caused by the lipid-soluble protoporphyrin IX and, the syndrome of delayed blistering photosensitivity, caused by the water-soluble porphyrins, uroporphyrin, and coproporphyrin. Porphyrias can manifest with one, or with a combination, of these syndromes, depending on whether one or more types of molecules are being accumulated. Iron plays a significant role in some of these conditions, as evidenced by improvements in both clinical manifestations and laboratory parameters, following iron depletion in porphyria cutanea tarda, or iron administration in some cases of X-linked erythropoietic protoporphyria. While the pathophysiology of a specific type of porphyrias, the protoporphyrias, appears to favor the administration of zinc, results so far have been conflicting, necessitating further studies in order to assess its potential benefit. The pathways involved in each disease, as well as insights into their pathobiological processes are presented, with an emphasis on the development of photosensitivity reactions.