Hepatotoxicity with thiazolidinediones: is it a class effect?

Drug Saf. 2001;24(12):873-88. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200124120-00002.


Decreased insulin sensitivity plays a major role in various human diseases. particularly type 2 diabetes mellitus, and is associated with a higher risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular complications. Thiazolidinediones, more commonly termed glitazones, are the first drugs to specifically target muscular insulin resistance. They have proven efficacy for reducing plasma glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus treated with diet alone, sulphonylureas, metformin or insulin. In addition, they are associated with some improvement of the cardiovascular risk profile. However, troglitazone, the first compound approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US, proved to be hepatotoxic and was withdrawn from the market after the report of several dozen deaths or cases of severe hepatic failure requiring liver transplantation. It remains unclear whether or not hepatotoxicity is a class effect or is related to unique properties of troglitazone. Rosiglitazone and pioglitazone, two other glitazones, appear to have similar efficacy with regard to blood glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus as compared with troglitazone. In controlled clinical trials, the incidence of significant (> or =3 x upper limit of normal) increases in liver enzyme levels (ALT in particular) was similar with rosiglitazone or pioglitazone as compared with placebo, whereas troglitazone was associated with a 3-fold greater incidence. In contrast to the numerous case reports of acute liver failure in patients receiving troglitzone, only a few case reports of hepatotoxicity have been reported in patients treated with rosiglitazone until now, with a causal relationship remaining uncertain. Furthermore, no single case of severe hepatotoxicity has been reported yet with pioglitazone. It should be mentioned that troglitazone, unlike pioglitazone and rosiglitazone, induces the cytochrome P450 isoform 3A4, which is partly responsible for its metabolism, and may be prone to drug interactions. Importantly enough, obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus are associated with liver abnormalities, especially non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, independent of any pharmacological treatment. This association obviously complicates the selection of patients who are good candidates for a treatment with glitazones as well as the monitoring of liver tests after initiation of therapy with any thiazolidinedione compound. While regular monitoring of liver enzymes is still recommended and more long term data are desirable, current evidence from clinical trials and postmarketing experience in the US supports the conclusion that rosiglitazone and pioglitazone do not share the hepatotoxic profile of troglitazone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / enzymology*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / mortality
  • Chromans / adverse effects
  • Chromans / pharmacokinetics
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / metabolism
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pioglitazone
  • Rosiglitazone
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Thiazoles / adverse effects*
  • Thiazoles / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / pharmacokinetics
  • Thiazolidinediones*
  • Troglitazone


  • Chromans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Thiazoles
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • Rosiglitazone
  • 2,4-thiazolidinedione
  • Troglitazone
  • Pioglitazone