Sulfonation in pharmacology and toxicology

Drug Metab Rev. 2004 Oct;36(3-4):823-43. doi: 10.1081/dmr-200033496.


Sulfonation has a major function in modulating the biological activities of a wide number of endogenous and foreign chemicals, including: drugs, toxic chemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters. The activation as well as inactivation of many xenobiotics and endogenous compounds occurs via sulfonation. The process is catalyzed by members of the cytosolic sulfotransferase (SULT) superfamily consisting of at least ten functional genes in humans. The reaction in intact cells may be reversed by arylsulafatase present in the endoplasmic reticulum. Under physiological conditions, sulfonation is regulated, in part, by the supply of the co-substrate/donor molecule 3'-phosphadensoine-5-phosphosulfate (PAPS), and transport mechanisms by which sulfonated conjugates enter and leave cells. Variation in the response of individuals to certain drugs and toxic chemicals may be related to genetic polymorphisms documented to occur in each of the above pathways. Sulfonation has a major function in regulating the endocrine status of an individual by modulating the receptor activity of estrogens and androgens, steroid biosynthesis, and the metabolism of catecholamines and iodothyronines Sulfonation is a key reaction in the body's defense against injurious chemicals and may have a major function during early development since SULTs are highly expressed in the human fetus. As with many Phase I and Phase II reactions, sulfonation may also serve as the terminal step in activating certain dietary and environmental agents to very reactive toxic intermediates implicated in carcinogenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation / drug effects
  • Biotransformation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Sulfotransferases / metabolism*
  • Toxicology / methods*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Sulfotransferases