Article

Review: Bilirubin pKa studies; new models and theories indicate high pKa values in water, dimethylformamide and DMSO

School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 53705-2222, USA.
BMC Biochemistry (Impact Factor: 1.94). 03/2010; 11:16. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2091-11-16
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Correct aqueous pKa values of unconjugated bilirubin (UCB), a poorly-soluble, unstable substance, are essential for understanding its functions. Our prior solvent partition studies, of unlabeled and [14C] UCB, indicated pKa values above 8.0. These high values were attributed to effects of internal H-bonding in UCB. Many earlier and subsequent studies have reported lower pKa values, some even below 5.0, which are often used to describe the behavior of UCB. We here review 18 published studies that assessed aqueous pKa values of UCB, critically evaluating their methodologies in relation to essential preconditions for valid pKa measurements (short-duration experiments with purified UCB below saturation and accounting for self-association of UCB).
These re-assessments identified major deficiencies that invalidate the results of all but our partition studies. New theoretical modeling of UCB titrations shows remarkable, unexpected effects of self-association, yielding falsely low pKa estimates, and provides some rationalization of the titration anomalies. The titration behavior reported for a soluble thioether conjugate of UCB at high aqueous concentrations is shown to be highly anomalous. Theoretical re-interpretations of data in DMSO and dimethylformamide show that those indirectly-derived aqueous pKa values are unacceptable, and indicate new, high average pKa values for UCB in non-aqueous media (>11 in DMSO and, probably, >10 in dimethylformamide).
No reliable aqueous pKa values of UCB are available for comparison with our partition-derived results. A companion paper shows that only the high pKa values can explain the pH-dependence of UCB binding to phospholipids, cyclodextrins, and alkyl-glycoside and bile salt micelles.

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