Ultrafast deactivation of bilirubin: dark intermediates and two-photon isomerization†
Bilirubin is a neurotoxic product responsible for neonatal jaundice, which is generally treated by phototherapy. The photoreaction involves ultrafast internal conversion via an elusive intermediate and Z–E isomerization with minor yield (less than 3% in solution). The structure of the intermediate remains unclear. Here, the combination of UV-vis and mid-IR ultrafast transient absorption spectroscopy reports a comprehensive picture of the mechanism and provides essential structural information about the intermediate species. Thus, spectral dynamics during the earliest ps unveils a wavepacket travelling from the Franck–Condon region to the crossing point with a dark state. The latter shows a tighter molecular skeleton than the ground state and decays with 15 ps time constant. Remarkably, the relative contribution of a non-decaying component increases linearly with pump energy, suggesting that Z–E isomerization could also be triggered by two-photon excitation. Implications for the photochemistry of protein-bound open tetrapyrroles are discussed.