Gender-related differences in pharmacokinetics and their clinical significance

J Clin Pharm Ther. 1999 Oct;24(5):339-46. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2710.1999.00246.x.


In this review I have attempted to summarize gender differences in pharmacokinetics involving the cytochrome P450 (CYP) isozymes of young and mature adults, excluding the effects of the menstrual cycle, use of oral contraceptives and pregnancy. Sex differences in drug metabolism and elimination are mainly related to steroid hormone levels. CYP3A4, responsible for the metabolism of over 50% of therapeutic drugs, exhibits higher activity in women than in men. Nonetheless, the absence of a sex difference has been reported by some workers. The activity of several other CYP (CYP2C19, CYP2D6, CYP2E1) isozymes and the conjugation (glucuronidation) activity involved in drug metabolism may be higher in men than in women. Drug metabolism in women is affected by sex-specific factors (menopause, pregnancy and menstruation) in addition to the cigarette smoking, drug ingestion and alcohol consumption that are more commonly observed factors in men. Furthermore, they are affected by physiological factors such as drug absorption, protein binding and elimination. Thus, careful attention should be paid to the side-effects and toxicity arising from sex differences in drug metabolism in clinical situations. Although there are specific ethical considerations regarding carrying out drug trials in women, the relationship between the side-effects and toxicity that may be influenced by hormones during drug metabolism and drug treatment needs further study.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Isoenzymes / physiology
  • Male
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Isoenzymes
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System