Human aldehyde dehydrogenases: potential pathological, pharmacological, and toxicological impact

J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 2003;17(1):7-23. doi: 10.1002/jbt.10057.


Aldehyde dehydrogenases catalyze the pyridine nucleotide-dependent oxidation of aldehydes to acids. Seventeen enzymes are currently viewed as belonging to the human aldehyde dehydrogenase superfamily. Summarized herein, insofar as the information is available, are the structural composition, physical properties, tissue distribution, subcellular location, substrate specificity, and cofactor preference of each member of this superfamily. Also summarized are the chromosomal locations and organization of the genes that encode these enzymes and the biological consequences when enzyme activity is lost or substantially diminished. Broadly, aldehyde dehydrogenases can be categorized as critical for normal development and/or physiological homeostasis (1). even when the organism is in a friendly environment or (2). only when the organism finds itself in a hostile environment. The primary, if not sole, evolved raison d'être of first category aldehyde dehydrogenases appears to be to catalyze the biotransformation of a single endobiotic for which they are relatively specific and of which the resultant metabolite is essential to the organism. Most of the human aldehyde dehydrogenases for which the relevant information is available fall into this category. Second category aldehyde dehydrogenases are relatively substrate nonspecific and their evolved raison d'être seems to be to protect the organism from potentially harmful xenobiotics, specifically aldehydes or xenobiotics that give rise to aldehydes, by catalyzing their detoxification. Thus, the lack of a fully functional first category aldehyde dehydrogenase results in a gross pathological phenotype in the absence of any insult, whereas the lack of a functional second category aldehyde dehydrogenase is ordinarily of no consequence with respect to gross phenotype, but is of consequence in that regard when the organism is subjected to a relevant insult.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / chemistry
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / genetics*
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Signal Transduction
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Protein Subunits
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase