The breast cancer resistance protein (BCRPABCG2) is a member of the ATP-binding cassette family of drug transporters and confers resistance to various anticancer drugs. We show here that mice lacking Bcrp1Abcg2 become extremely sensitive to the dietary chlorophyll-breakdown product pheophorbide a, resulting in severe, sometimes lethal phototoxic lesions on light-exposed skin. Pheophorbide a occurs in various plant-derived foods and food supplements. Bcrp1 transports pheophorbide a and is highly efficient in limiting its uptake from ingested food. Bcrp1(-/-) mice also displayed a previously unknown type of protoporphyria. Erythrocyte levels of the heme precursor and phototoxin protoporphyrin IX, which is structurally related to pheophorbide a, were increased 10-fold. Transplantation with wild-type bone marrow cured the protoporphyria and reduced the phototoxin sensitivity of Bcrp1(-/-) mice. These results indicate that humans or animals with low or absent BCRP activity may be at increased risk for developing protoporphyria and diet-dependent phototoxicity and provide a striking illustration of the importance of drug transporters in protection from toxicity of normal food constituents.
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