Biochemical differentiation of the porphyrias

Clin Biochem. 1999 Nov;32(8):609-19. doi: 10.1016/s0009-9120(99)00067-3.


Objectives: To differentiate the porphyrias by clinical and biochemical methods.

Design and methods: We describe levels of blood, urine, and fecal porphyrins and their precursors in the porphyrias and present an algorithm for their biochemical differentiation. Diagnoses were established using clinical and biochemical data. Porphyrin analyses were performed by high performance liquid chromatography.

Results and conclusions: Plasma and urine porphyrin patterns were useful for diagnosis of porphyria cutanea tarda, but not the acute porphyrias. Erythropoietic protoporphyria was confirmed by erythrocyte protoporphyrin assay and erythrocyte fluorescence. Acute intermittent porphyria was diagnosed by increases in urine delta-aminolevulinic acid and porphobilinogen and confirmed by reduced erythrocyte porphobilinogen deaminase activity and normal or near-normal stool porphyrins. Variegate porphyria and hereditary coproporphyria were diagnosed by their characteristic stool porphyrin patterns. This appears to be the most convenient diagnostic approach until molecular abnormalities become more extensively defined and more widely available.

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda / blood
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda / urine
  • Porphyria, Acute Intermittent / blood
  • Porphyria, Acute Intermittent / urine
  • Porphyria, Hepatoerythropoietic / blood
  • Porphyria, Hepatoerythropoietic / urine
  • Porphyrias / blood*
  • Porphyrias / classification*
  • Porphyrias / urine
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / blood
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / urine
  • Porphyrins / analysis
  • Porphyrins / blood*
  • Porphyrins / urine


  • Porphyrins