Human sera were found to contain factors that stimulate and factors that inhibit porphyrin formation by cultured avian liver cells. The capacity of sera to stimulate or inhibit porphyrin formation varied in different hormonal states and in the porphyrias. Sera from 31 post partum women, 8 of whom were not lactating, inhibited porphyrin formation to a mean level 30% below the level in control cultures and also inhibited drug and steroid stimulation of porphyrin formation. In contrast, mean porphyrin formation compared to control cultures was increased between 9 and 21% by sera from 52 normal subjects, 16 women on oral contraceptives, and 11 pregnant women. It was increased 193% by sera from 9 subjects with acute intermittent porphyria and 172% by sera from 13 subjects with porphyria cutanea tarda. Heated sera or ethanol extracts of sera from all groups of subjects further increased the mean porphyrin stimulation by sera and, for the post partum subjects, eliminated the inhibitory effect. Ethanol extracts of sera from 28 oral contraceptive treated women caused significantly greater mean stimulation of porphyrin formation than did extracts of sera from 30 normal women. While sera from 17 out of 22 porphyric subjects contained both stimulatory and inhibitory factors, 5 out of 22 had no evidence of an inhibitory component. There appeared to be heterogeneity in the occurrence of the factors among porphyrics. The factor(s) in sera responsible for porphyrin stimulation were heat stable and insensitive to trypsin; were present in the supernates after ethanol precipitation of plasma proteins; were extractable in ethyl acetate and nondialyzable; and they migrated with the albumin containing fraction of serum during electrophoresis. The factor(s) responsible for porphyrin inhibition were heat labile, sensitive to trypsin, and resistant to neuraminidase; were present in the ethanol precipitates of sera and were nondialyzable; and they migrated with the gamma globulin fraction of serum during electrophoresis. Inhibition of porphyrin formation was not attributable to heme, free or bound as hemoglobin, hemopexin, or hemalbumin.
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