Mechanistic basis of adverse drug reactions: the perils of inappropriate dose schedules

Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2005 Jan;4(1):103-28. doi: 10.1517/14740338.4.1.103.


Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) have long been recognised as a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. They account for a substantial number of clinical consultations, hospital admissions and extended duration of in-patient stay as well as mortality. By far the most common ADRs are the concentration-dependent pharmacological reactions, the majority of which ought to be preventable. As a result of high concentrations of the parent drug and/or its metabolite(s), there is an augmentation of primary pharmacological activity and/or appearance of new and undesirable secondary pharmacological activity. Typically, these high concentrations result from administration of high doses in an attempt to maximise efficacy and/or modulation of the pharmacokinetics of a drug by either genetic or non-genetic factors. High plasma concentrations of parent drug may result from inherited impairment or drug-induced inhibition of its pharmacokinetic disposition. Conversely, inherited overcapacity or drug-induced induction of the metabolism of a drug may result in low concentrations of parent drug and frequently, rapid accumulation of its metabolites. Environmental, dietary and phytochemical factors may also influence the activity of drug metabolising enzymes. As with inherited polymorphisms of acetylation and cytochrome P450-based drug metabolising enzymes, polymorphisms of other conjugation reactions, such as glucuronidation, increasingly appear to be associated with drug toxicity. Diseases of organs involved in elimination of a drug also alter its pharmacokinetics, plasma concentration and, therefore, the profile of its concentration-dependent ADRs. Inherited mutations, concurrently administered drugs or presence of certain diseases may also alter the sensitivity of some pharmacological targets, accounting for a substantial number of ADRs and interactions. When there is enhanced pharmacodynamic sensitivity, plasma drug concentrations that are apparently within the normal 'non-toxic' range give rise to ADRs. Recent advances have also provided important insights into the wider scope of drug-drug interactions. Interactions that occur at P-glycoproteins, drug transporters and efflux pumps, at various transmembrane interfaces such as the gastrointestinal wall, renal tubules, hepatobiliary border and blood-brain barrier, are beginning to explain many non-metabolic interactions. These alter the systemic exposure to drugs and have so far, begun to explain unexpected neurotoxicity and hepatotoxicity. The function of these transporters is also genetically modulated. These advances, together with continued increased awareness and education of prescribers and pharmacists, offer great opportunities for substantially minimising concentration-related ADRs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cisapride / adverse effects
  • Cisapride / pharmacokinetics
  • Cisapride / therapeutic use
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / adverse effects
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Polymorphism, Genetic


  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Cisapride