Unconjugated bilirubin inhibits in vitro major histocompatibility complex-unrestricted cytotoxicity of human lymphocytes

Yoshio Haga, Margaret A. Tempero, Rowen K. Zetterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

31 Scopus citations


Septic complications have been major problems in the management of patients with obstructive jaundice and neonatal jaundice. This study investigates effects of unconjugated bilirubin on lymphocyte-mediated cytotoxicity against human tumor target cells. In vitro exposure of human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) with bilirubin IXα in bovine albumin solution resulted in a dose-dependent decrease of both natural killer activity and antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) activity. Inhibition of both activities correlated with the amounts of intracellular bilirubin. Expression of cell surface CD16, CD56 antigen, and IL-2 receptor β chain was unchanged in bilirubin-treated PBL as compared to bilirubin-untreated PBL. When bilirubin-treated PBL were cultured with interleukin-2 (IL-2), a dose-dependent decrease of lymphokine-activated killing activity, ADCC activity, and DNA synthesis was observed. Expression of CD56 antigen and IL-2 receptor α chain was unchanged in bilirubin-treated PBL following IL-2 stimulation as compared to bilirubin free control. These results suggest that bilirubin inhibits major histocompatibility complex-unrestricted cytotoxicity in both unstimulated and IL-2 stimulated lymphocytes. These observations may help explain the increased susceptibility to infection observed in hyperbilirubinemic patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-34
Number of pages6
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Basis of Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 24 1996


  • Bilirubin
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Human
  • Lymphocyte
  • Major histocompatibitliy complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology

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