Studies on the metabolism of troglitazone to reactive intermediates in vitro and in vivo. Evidence for novel biotransformation pathways involving quinone methide formation and thiazolidinedione ring scission

Chem Res Toxicol. 2001 Jan;14(1):62-70. doi: 10.1021/tx000180q.


Therapy with the oral antidiabetic agent troglitazone (Rezulin) has been associated with cases of severe hepatotoxicity and drug-induced liver failure, which led to the recent withdrawal of the product from the U.S. market. While the mechanism of this toxicity remains unknown, it is possible that chemically reactive metabolites of the drug play a causative role. In an effort to address this possibility, this study was undertaken to determine whether troglitazone undergoes metabolism in human liver microsomal preparations to electrophilic intermediates. Following incubation of troglitazone with human liver microsomes and with cDNA-expressed cytochrome P450 isoforms in the presence of glutathione (GSH), a total of five GSH conjugates (M1-M5) were detected and identified tentatively by LC-MS/MS analysis. In two cases (M1 and M5), the structures of the adducts were confirmed by NMR spectroscopy and/or by comparison with an authentic standard prepared by synthesis. The formation of GSH conjugates M1-M5 revealed the operation of two distinct metabolic activation pathways for troglitazone, one of which involves oxidation of the substituted chromane ring system to a reactive o-quinone methide derivative, while the second involves a novel oxidative cleavage of the thiazolidinedione (TZD) ring, potentially generating highly electrophilic alpha-ketoisocyanate and sulfenic acid intermediates. When troglitazone was administered orally to a rat, samples of bile were found to contain GSH conjugates which reflected the operation of these same metabolic pathways in vivo. The finding that metabolism of the TZD ring of troglitazone was catalyzed selectively by P450 3A enzymes is significant in light of the recent report that troglitazone is an inducer of this isoform in human hepatocytes. The implications of these results are discussed in the context of the potential for troglitazone to covalently modify hepatic proteins and to cause oxidative stress through redox cycling processes, either of which may play a role in drug-induced liver injury.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile / metabolism
  • Biotransformation
  • Catalysis
  • Chromans / metabolism
  • Chromans / pharmacokinetics*
  • Chromans / toxicity
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Glutathione / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / metabolism
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / toxicity
  • Isoenzymes / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Ketoconazole / pharmacology
  • Kinetics
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Microsomes, Liver / drug effects
  • Microsomes, Liver / enzymology
  • Microsomes, Liver / metabolism
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Steroid Hydroxylases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Steroid Hydroxylases / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / pharmacokinetics*
  • Thiazoles / toxicity
  • Thiazolidinediones*
  • Troglitazone


  • Chromans
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Isoenzymes
  • Thiazoles
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • NADP
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Steroid Hydroxylases
  • steroid hormone 6-beta-hydroxylase
  • Glutathione
  • Troglitazone
  • Ketoconazole