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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Human cytochrome P450 isozymes in metabolism and health effects of gasoline ethers.

To reduce the production of carbon monoxide and other pollutants in motor vehicle exhaust, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE*), ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE), and tert-amyl methyl ether (TAME) are added to gasoline as oxygenates for more complete combustion. Among them, MTBE is the most widely used. The possible adverse effect of MTBE in humans is a public concern, but the human enzymes responsible for metabolism of these gasoline ethers and the causes or factors for increased sensitivity to MTBE in certain individuals are totally unknown. This information is important to understanding the health effects of MTBE in humans and to assessing the human relevance of pharmacokinetics and toxicity data obtained from animals. In the present study, we demonstrated that human liver is active in metabolizing MTBE to tert-butyl alcohol (TBA), a major circulating metabolite and an exposure marker of MTBE. The activity is localized in the microsomal fraction but not in the cytosol. Formation of TBA in human liver microsomes is NADPH-dependent and is significantly inhibited by carbon monoxide, which inhibits cytochrome P450 ( CYP) enzymes. These results provide strong evidence that CYP enzymes play a critical role in the metabolism of MTBE in human livers. Human liver is also active in the oxidative metabolism of 2 other gasoline ethers, ETBE and TAME. We observed a large interindividual variation in metabolizing these gasoline ethers in 15 microsomal samples prepared from normal human livers. The activity level (pmol metabolite/min/mg) ranged from 204 to 2,890 for MTBE; 179 to 3,134 for ETBE; and 271 to 8,532 for TAME. The microsomal activities in metabolizing MTBE, ETBE, and TAME correlated highly with each other (r = 0.91 to 0.96), suggesting that these ethers are metabolized by the same enzyme(s). Correlation analysis of the ether-metabolizing activities with individual CYP enzyme activities in the human liver microsomes showed that the highest degree of correlation was with CYP isoform 2A6 (CYP2A6)+ (r = 0.94 for MTBE, 0.95 for ETBE, and 0.90 for TAME), which is constitutively expressed in human livers and known to be polymorphic. CYP2A6 displayed the highest turnover number in metabolizing gasoline ethers among a battery of human CYP enzymes expressed in human B-lymphoblastoid cells. CYP2A6 coexpressed with human CYP reductase by a baculovirus expression system was also more active than CYP isoform 2E1 (CYP2E1) in the metabolism of MTBE, ETBE, and TAME. Kinetic studies on MTBE metabolism with human liver microsomes (n = 3) exhibited an apparent Michaelis constant (Km) of 28 to 89 microM and a maximum rate of metabolism (Vmax) of 215 to 783 pmol/min/mg. Metabolism of MTBE, ETBE, and TAME by human liver microsomes was inhibited by coumarin, a known substrate of human CYP2A6, in a concentration-dependent manner. Monoclonal antibody against human CYP2A6 caused a significant inhibition (75% to 95%) of the metabolism of MTBE, ETBE, and TAME in human liver microsomes. Taken together, these results clearly indicate that, in human liver, CYP2A6 is a major enzyme responsible for metabolism of MTBE, ETBE, and TAME. Although CYP2E1 metabolizes diethyl ether and was previously suggested to be involved[1]


  1. Human cytochrome P450 isozymes in metabolism and health effects of gasoline ethers. Hong, J.Y., Wang, Y.Y., Mohr, S.N., Bondoc, F.Y., Deng, C. Research report (Health Effects Institute) (2001) [Pubmed]
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