Erythropoietic Protoporphyria and X-Linked Protoporphyria: pathophysiology, genetics, clinical manifestations, and management

Mol Genet Metab. 2019 Nov;128(3):298-303. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2019.01.020. Epub 2019 Jan 24.


Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP) and X-linked Protoporphyria (XLP) are rare, genetic photodermatoses resulting from defects in enzymes of the heme-biosynthetic pathway. EPP results from the partial deficiency of ferrochelatase, and XLP results from gain-of-function mutations in erythroid specific ALAS2. Both disorders result in the accumulation of erythrocyte protoporphyrin, which is released in the plasma and taken up by the liver and vascular endothelium. The accumulated protoporphyrin is activated by sunlight exposure, generating singlet oxygen radical reactions leading to tissue damage and excruciating pain. About 2-5% of patients develop clinically significant liver dysfunction due to protoporphyrin deposition in bile and/or hepatocytes which can advance to cholestatic liver failure requiring transplantation. Clinically these patients present with acute, severe, non-blistering phototoxicity within minutes of sun-exposure. Anemia is seen in about 47% of patients and about 27% of patients will develop abnormal serum aminotransferases. The diagnosis of EPP and XLP is made by detection of markedly increased erythrocyte protoporphyrin levels with a predominance of metal-free protoporphyrin. Genetic testing by sequencing the FECH or ALAS2 gene confirms the diagnosis. Treatment is limited to sun-protection and there are no currently available FDA-approved therapies for these disorders. Afamelanotide, a synthetic analogue of α-melanocyte stimulating hormone was found to increase pain-free sun exposure and improve quality of life in adults with EPP. It has been approved for use in the European Union since 2014 and is not available in the U.S. In addition to the development of effective therapeutics, future studies are needed to establish the role of iron and the risks related to the development of hepatopathy in these patients.

Keywords: Genetics; Heme-biosynthesis; Metabolic; Photodermatosis; Porphyria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5-Aminolevulinate Synthetase / genetics
  • Anemia / etiology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dermatitis, Phototoxic
  • Disease Management*
  • Genes, X-Linked*
  • Heme / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / etiology
  • Liver Diseases / physiopathology
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / complications
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / genetics*
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / physiopathology*
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / therapy
  • Protoporphyria, Erythropoietic / complications
  • Protoporphyria, Erythropoietic / genetics*
  • Protoporphyria, Erythropoietic / physiopathology*
  • Protoporphyria, Erythropoietic / therapy


  • Heme
  • 5-Aminolevulinate Synthetase
  • ALAS2 protein, human