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

Genetically determined differences in drug metabolism as a risk factor in drug toxicity.

Drug metabolizing enzymes are of paramount importance in drug detoxification as well as chemical mutagenesis, carcinogenesis and toxicity via metabolic activation. Thus genetically determined differences in the activity of these enzymes can influence individual susceptibility to adverse drug reactions, drug induced diseases and certain types of chemically induced cancers. The genetic polymorphisms of three human drug metabolizing enzymes, namely N-acetyltransferase and two cytochrome P-450 isozymes (P-4502D6: debrisoquine/sparteine polymorphism, P-4502C8-10: mephenytoin polymorphism) have been firmly established. Based on the metabolic handling of certain probe drugs, the population can be divided into two phenotypes: the rapid acetylator/extensive metabolizer and slow acetylator/poor metabolizer. These polymorphisms have provided useful tools to study the relationship between genetically determined differences in the activity of drug metabolizing enzymes and the risk for adverse drug reactions and certain types of chemically-induced diseases and cancers. With regard to the susceptibility of the two phenotypes, drug mediated toxicity for the following scenarios can be anticipated. (1) The toxicity of the drug is caused by the parent compound and the elimination of the drug proceeds exclusively via the polymorphic enzyme. No alternate pathways of biotransformation are available. Thus the slow acetylator/poor metabolizer phenotype will be more prone to such a type of toxicity since, at the same level of exposure, this phenotype will accumulate the drug as a result of impaired metabolism (e.g. isoniazid polyneuropathy, perhexiline polyneuropathy, pesticide induced Parkinsons disease). (2) The polymorphic pathway is a major route of detoxification. Impairment of this pathway shifts the metabolism to an alternate pathway via which a reactive intermediate is being formed. In such a situation the slow acetylator/poor metabolizer phenotype constitutes a major risk factor for toxicity (e.g. isoniazid hepatotoxicity). (3) The toxicity is mediated by a reactive intermediate generated by a polymorphic enzyme. Hence extensive metabolizers are at a much higher risk than poor metabolizers to develop toxicity or cancer (e.g. bronchial carcinoma in smokers, not chemically induced aggressive bladder cancer).[1]


  1. Genetically determined differences in drug metabolism as a risk factor in drug toxicity. Eichelbaum, M., Kroemer, H.K., Mikus, G. Toxicol. Lett. (1992) [Pubmed]
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