Lambrecht, R.; Cable, E.; Cable, J.; Clements, E.; Donohue, S.; Greene, Y.; Srivastava, K.; Arnold, W.; Bonkovsky, H. (Univ. of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester (United States) Univ. of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City (United States))
Vincent van Gogh suffered from recurrent bouts of an illness that may have been acute porphyria and abused camphor and alcohol, the latter particularly in the form of absinthe, a liqueur distilled from wormwood that was popular in 19th C France. To learn whether camphor or terpenes found in absinthe are porphyrogenic, the authors studied them in cultures of chick embryo liver cells. All were found to be porphyrogenic, especially in the presence of deferoxamine. The terpenes also induced the activity and protein amount of 5-aminolevulinate synthase and heme oxygenase, and induced activities of benzphetamine demethylase. The degree of porphyrin and enzyme induction produced by 1mM camphor was similar to that produced by 50uM glutethimide, a potent porphyrogen. Potency of pinene and thujone were lower. Camphor and glutethimide both produced accumulations of 8- and 7-COOH porphyrins, whereas pinene and thujone produced 4- and 2-COOH porphyrin accumulation. The authors conclude that camphor, pinen and thujone are porphyrogenic, cable of exacerbating acute porphyria, and may have done so in van Gogh.