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Any of a class of biologically important heterocyclic compounds of a characteristic chemical structure that includes four pyrrole groups (five-membered organic rings each containing a nitrogen atom) linked by additional carbon atoms to form a large flat ring. As biological pigments, they and closely related molecules are responsible for many of the vivid colours in living organisms, where they often occur combined with metalions and various substituents as coordination complexes (seecompound). These include the magnesium-containing chlorophylls and the iron-containing heme group, a constituent (along with protein) of, e.g., hemoglobin, the cytochromes, and the enzyme catalase. In medicine, porphyrins are used in conjunction with light, often a laser beam, to induce reactions in the body against cancer and other diseases.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on porphyrin, visit Britannica.com.