Acyl glucuronide reactivity in perspective: biological consequences

Chem Biol Interact. 2003 May 6;145(2):117-37. doi: 10.1016/s0009-2797(03)00020-6.


The metabolic conjugation of exogenous and endogenous carboxylic acid substrates with endogenous glucuronic acid, mediated by the uridine diphosphoglucuronosyl transferase (UGT) superfamily of enzymes, leads to the formation of acyl glucuronide metabolites. Since the late 1970s, acyl glucuronides have been increasingly identified as reactive electrophilic metabolites, capable of undergoing three reactions: intramolecular rearrangement, hydrolysis, and intermolecular reactions with proteins leading to covalent drug-protein adducts. This essential dogma has been accepted for over a decade. The key question proposed by researchers, and now the pharmaceutical industry, is: does or can the covalent modification of endogenous proteins, mediated by reactive acyl glucuronide metabolites, lead to adverse drug reactions, perhaps idiosyncratic in nature? This review evaluates the evidence for acyl glucuronide-derived perturbation of homeostasis, particularly that which might result from the covalent modification of endogenous proteins and other macromolecules. Because of the availability of acyl glucuronides for test tube/in vitro experiments, there is now a substantial literature documenting their rearrangement, hydrolysis and covalent modification of proteins in vitro. It is certain from in vitro experiments that serum albumin, dipeptidyl peptidase IV, tubulin and UGTs are covalently modified by acyl glucuronides. However, these in vitro experiments have been specifically designed to amplify any interference with a biological process in order to find biological effects. The in vivo situation is not at all clear. Certainly it must be concluded that all humans taking carboxylate drugs that form reactive acyl glucuronides will form covalent drug-protein adducts, and it must also be concluded that this in itself is normally benign. However, there is enough in vivo evidence implicating acyl glucuronides, which, when backed up by in vivo circumstantial and documented in vitro evidence, supports the view that reactive acyl glucuronides may initiate toxicity/immune responses. In summary, though acyl glucuronide-derived covalent modification of endogenous macromolecules is well-defined, the work ahead needs to provide detailed links between such modification and its possible biological consequences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / immunology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Carboxylic Acids / adverse effects
  • Carboxylic Acids / chemistry
  • Carboxylic Acids / immunology
  • Carboxylic Acids / metabolism
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Glucuronides / adverse effects
  • Glucuronides / chemistry*
  • Glucuronides / metabolism*
  • Glucuronides / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Carboxylic Acids
  • Glucuronides
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Proteins