Roles of glucuronidation and UDP-glucuronosyltransferases in xenobiotic bioactivation reactions

Chem Biol Interact. 2000 Dec 1;129(1-2):171-93. doi: 10.1016/s0009-2797(00)00198-8.


Glucuronide conjugates represent one of the major types of naturally occurring phase 2 metabolites of xenobiotics and endobiotics. The process underlying their formation, glucuronidation, is normally considered detoxifying, because glucuronides usually possess less intrinsic biological or chemical activity than their parent aglycones and they are rapid excreted. However, a number of glucuronide conjugates are known that are active and may contribute to pharmacological activities or toxicities associated with their parent compounds. These include two classes of glucuronides with electrophilic chemical reactivity (N-O-glucuronides of hydroxamic acids and acyl glucuronides of carboxylic acids) and several types of glucuronides that impart biological effects through non-covalent interactions (morphine 6-O-glucuronide, retinoid glucuronides, and D-ring glucuronides of estrogens). Glucuronides may thus contribute to clinically significant effects, including environmental arylamine-induced carcinogenesis, drug hypersensitivity and other toxicities associated with carboxylic acid drugs, morphine analgesia, and cholestasis from estrogens. This review summarizes the rat and human UDP-glucuronosyltransferases that may be involved in the formation of bioactive glucuronides, including their substrate- and tissue-specificity and genetic and environmental influences on their activity. This knowledge may be useful for enhancing the therapeutic efficacy and minimizing the risk of adverse effects associated with xenobiotics that undergo bioactivating glucuronidation reactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Glucuronides / metabolism*
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Xenobiotics / pharmacokinetics*


  • Estrogens
  • Glucuronides
  • Isoenzymes
  • Xenobiotics
  • Glucuronosyltransferase