Mixed Hepatic Porphyria: An In-Depth Look at This Rare Condition

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Mixed Hepatic Porphyria: A Comprehensive Guide


Mixed hepatic porphyria (MHP) is a rare inherited metabolic disorder that affects the production of heme, an essential component of red blood cells. It is caused by mutations in two genes involved in heme synthesis: hydroxymethylbilane synthase (HMBS) and uroporphyrinogen decarboxylase (UROD). MHP is characterized by a combination of symptoms and findings that primarily involve the skin, nervous system, and liver.


MHP is a rare condition, with an estimated prevalence of 1 in 500,000 people worldwide. It affects both males and females equally and is typically diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood.


MHP is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, meaning that only one copy of the mutated gene is required to cause the condition. Approximately 75% of cases are caused by mutations in the HMBS gene, while the remaining 25% are caused by mutations in the UROD gene.


Heme is an essential molecule for the proper function of red blood cells. It is synthesized in a series of enzymatic reactions that take place in the liver and require the participation of the HMBS and UROD enzymes. Mutations in these genes result in a deficiency or dysfunction of these enzymes, leading to impaired heme synthesis.

The accumulation of intermediates in the heme synthesis pathway causes the clinical manifestations of MHP. These intermediates include porphobilinogen (PBG), aminolevulinic acid (ALA), hydroxymethylbilane (HMB), and uroporphyrin.

Clinical Manifestations

The clinical presentation of MHP can vary depending on the severity of the enzyme deficiency and the age of onset. The most common symptoms and findings include:

Cutaneous Manifestations:

  • Photosensitivity: MHP is characterized by an increased sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light, resulting in painful skin reactions after sun exposure.
  • Blistering and scarring: Exposure to UV light can trigger the formation of blisters or vesicles that can subsequently scar.
  • Hyperpigmentation: Excess porphyrins can accumulate in the skin, leading to dark discoloration.
  • Hirsutism: Increased hair growth, particularly on the face and limbs.

Neurological Manifestations:

  • Peripheral neuropathy: Damage to the peripheral nerves can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hands and feet.
  • Autonomic neuropathy: This affects the nerves that control involuntary functions such as sweating, heart rate, and digestion.
  • Seizures: In severe cases, MHP can cause seizures.
  • Mental health symptoms: Anxiety, depression, and psychosis have been reported in some patients with MHP.

Hepatic Manifestations:

  • Liver damage: The accumulation of porphyrins in the liver can lead to inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis).
  • Gallstone formation: Porphyrins can trigger the formation of gallstones in the gallbladder.
  • Liver failure: In severe cases, liver failure can develop.

Other Manifestations:

  • Hemolytic anemia: The accumulation of porphyrins can damage red blood cells, leading to hemolytic anemia.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure is a common finding in MHP.
  • Erectile dysfunction: Porphyrins can cause blood flow problems in the penis, leading to erectile dysfunction.


The diagnosis of MHP is based on a combination of clinical findings, family history, and laboratory tests. The following tests are used to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Urine porphobilinogen (PBG) and aminolevulinic acid (ALA) levels: Elevated levels of these intermediates in the urine are indicative of MHP.
  • Fecal porphyrin profile: This test measures the levels of different porphyrins in the stool to distinguish MHP from other types of porphyria.
  • Genetic testing: Molecular genetic testing can identify the specific mutations in the HMBS or UROD genes responsible for MHP.

Differential Diagnosis

MHP should be differentiated from other types of hepatic porphyria, as well as conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as:

  • Acute intermittent porphyria (AIP)
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT)
  • Erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP)
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Hemochromatosis


The management of MHP focuses on preventing and treating the acute symptoms and complications of the condition. The following measures are recommended:

  • Avoidance of sunlight: Sun exposure should be minimized to prevent the development of skin lesions.
  • Use of sunscreen: Sunscreen with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) should be applied liberally before going outdoors.
  • Oral medications: Beta-carotene and hydroxychloroquine are medications that can help protect the skin from UV damage.
  • Phlebotomy: Regular blood transfusions can remove excess porphyrins from the body.
  • Hepatic support: Medications such as ursodeoxycholic acid can help support liver function and prevent further damage.
  • Pain management: Painful skin lesions and neuropathy can be managed with pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioids.


The prognosis for MHP varies depending on the severity of the enzyme deficiency. Most patients with mild to moderate MHP can lead relatively normal lives with appropriate management. However, severe cases can lead to significant complications, including liver failure and neurological damage.

Research Directions

Research is ongoing to improve the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of MHP and to develop new therapies for the condition. The following research directions are being pursued:

  • Gene therapy: This approach aims to correct the genetic mutations responsible for MHP using gene editing technologies.
  • Enzyme replacement therapy: This involves the administration of recombinant forms of the deficient enzymes to restore heme synthesis.
  • Novel drug development: New drugs are being developed to target specific pathways involved in porphyrin metabolism.


Mixed hepatic porphyria is a rare inherited disorder characterized by a combination of symptoms that affect the skin, nervous system, and liver. The condition is caused by mutations in the HMBS and UROD genes, which are involved in heme synthesis. The clinical presentation and severity of MHP can vary depending on the extent of the enzyme deficiency. Management focuses on preventing and treating the acute symptoms and complications of the condition. Further research is needed to improve the understanding of MHP and to develop new therapies.

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