Paracetamol (acetaminophen)-induced toxicity: molecular and biochemical mechanisms, analogues and protective approaches

Crit Rev Toxicol. 2001 Jan;31(1):55-138. doi: 10.1080/20014091111677.


An overview is presented on the molecular aspects of toxicity due to paracetamol (acetaminophen) and structural analogues. The emphasis is on four main topics, that is, bioactivation, detoxication, chemoprevention, and chemoprotection. In addition, some pharmacological and clinical aspects are discussed briefly. A general introduction is presented on the biokinetics, biotransformation, and structural modification of paracetamol. Phase II biotransformation in relation to marked species differences and interorgan transport of metabolites are described in detail, as are bioactivation by cytochrome P450 and peroxidases, two important phase I enzyme families. Hepatotoxicity is described in depth, as it is the most frequent clinical observation after paracetamol-intoxication. In this context, covalent protein binding and oxidative stress are two important initial (Stage I) events highlighted. In addition, the more recently reported nuclear effects are discussed as well as secondary events (Stage II) that spread over the whole liver and may be relevant targets for clinical treatment. The second most frequent clinical observation, renal toxicity, is described with respect to the involvement of prostaglandin synthase, N-deacetylase, cytochrome P450 and glutathione S-transferase. Lastly, mechanism-based developments of chemoprotective agents and progress in the development of structural analogues with an improved therapeutic index are outlined.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / analogs & derivatives
  • Acetaminophen / pharmacokinetics
  • Acetaminophen / toxicity*
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / pharmacokinetics
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / prevention & control
  • Chemoprevention
  • Kidney / drug effects*
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Species Specificity
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Acetaminophen