The bichromophore nature of bilirubin explains the presence of at least two partially overlaying bands in both absorption and fluorescence emission spectra, and accounts for interchromophore exciton transfer events responsible for the emission sensitivity to the molecular environment and excitation wavelength. These concepts were likely responsible for the previously reported good yield of the unexpected remarkable bilirubin fluorescence emission under excitation at 366 nm, at which bilirubin absorption is very low. In this connection, aim of this work is to further investigate bilirubin spectral excitation properties and their diagnostic potential, until now poorly considered. Fluorescence excitation spectra of pure bilirubin in solution with solubilizing agents observed at 520 and 570 nm showed a wide region in the 430-510 nm range, similar to the absorption profile. In addition, an excitation band centered at about 400 nm was detected. Comparable excitation features were detected in rat serum. The 430-510 nm excitation region was well separated from a main band at shorter wavelength, ascribable to other endogenous fluorophores, with a shoulder at about 400 nm which was also easily discriminated by spectral fitting analysis. The bands ascribable to bilirubin showed changes of their relative contribution to the overall spectral region after liver ischemia/reperfusion, comparable to bilirubin biochemical data. Excitation spectra proved to discriminate the fluorescence of serum bilirubin at levels much lower than emission spectra, opening promising perspectives to improve the real time fluorescence analysis of crude serum in the absence of any exogenous labelling agent, and advance the diagnostic application of optical-biopsy in experimental hepatology and biomedicine.
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