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Definition of Xanthine

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Xanthine: A substance found in caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline and encountered in tea, coffee, and the colas. Chemically, xanthine is a purine.

There is a genetic disease of xanthine metabolism, xanthinuria, due to deficiency of an enzyme, xanthine dehydrogenase, needed to process xanthine in the body. Unchecked, xanthinuria can lead to kidney stone formation and urinary tract disease (due to xanthine stones) and to muscle disease (due to deposits of xanthine in the muscle). Treatment is by avoiding foods and drinks containing xanthine derivatives, such as coffee, tea, and colas.

The name "xanthine" was taken from the Greek "xanqos" meaning yellow + quinine since it forms yellow salts and its solution forms a blue fluorescence as does quinine.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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