Background: St John's Wort (hypericum perforatum) is an herbal medicine that is frequently used for therapy of mild depression. Recently, St John's Wort was reported to substantially decrease blood/plasma concentrations and efficacy of cyclosporine (INN, ciclosporin), indinavir, and digoxin. In this study we investigated the mechanisms of these St John's Wort-induced drug interactions.
Methods and results: In a preclinical study, the administration of St John's Wort extract to rats during 14 days resulted in a 3.8-fold increase of intestinal P-glycoprotein/Mdrl expression and in a 2.5-fold increase in hepatic CYP3A2 expression (Western blot analyses). In a clinical study, the administration of St John's Wort extract to 8 healthy male volunteers during 14 days resulted in an 18% decrease of digoxin exposure after a single digoxin dose (0.5 mg), in 1.4- and 1.5-fold increased expressions of duodenal P-glycoprotein/MDR1 and CYP3A4, respectively, and in a 1.4-fold increase in the functional activity of hepatic CYP3A4 (14C-erythromycin breath test).
Conclusions: These results indicate direct inducing effects of St John's Wort on intestinal P-glycoprotein/MDR1 (in rats and humans), hepatic CYP3A2 (in rats), and intestinal and hepatic CYP3A4 (in humans). Therefore the results provide a mechanistic explanation for the previously observed drug interactions in patients and support the importance of intestinal P-glycoprotein/MDR1 in addition to intestinal and hepatic CYP3A4 for overall drug absorption and disposition in humans.