Free heme is a highly toxic molecule for a living organism and its detoxification is a very important process, especially for carnivorous animals. Here we report the discovery of a previously unknown process for neutralizing free heme in the digestive tract of domestic cats. The cornerstone of this process is the encapsulation of heme into carbonated hydroxyapatite nanoparticles, followed by their excretion with faeces. This way of heme neutralization resembles the formation of insoluble heme-containing particles in the digestive tracts of other hematophagous species (for example, the formation of insoluble hemozoin crystals in malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites). Our findings suggest that the encapsulation of heme molecules into a hydroxyapatite matrix occurs during the transition from the acidic gastric juice to the small intestine with neutral conditions. The formation of these particles and their efficiency to include heme depends on the bone content in a cat’s diet. In vitro experiments with heme-hydroxyapatite nanoparticles confirm the proposed scenario.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8290
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2021




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