Induction of phase I, II and III drug metabolism/transport by xenobiotics

Arch Pharm Res. 2005 Mar;28(3):249-68. doi: 10.1007/BF02977789.


Drug metabolizing enzymes (DMEs) play central roles in the metabolism, elimination and detoxification of xenobiotics and drugs introduced into the human body. Most of the tissues and organs in our body are well equipped with diverse and various DMEs including phase I, phase II metabolizing enzymes and phase III transporters, which are present in abundance either at the basal unstimulated level, and/or are inducible at elevated level after exposure to xenobiotics. Recently, many important advances have been made in the mechanisms that regulate the expression of these drug metabolism genes. Various nuclear receptors including the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), orphan nuclear receptors, and nuclear factor-erythoroid 2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) have been shown to be the key mediators of drug-induced changes in phase I, phase II metabolizing enzymes as well as phase III transporters involved in efflux mechanisms. For instance, the expression of CYP1 genes can be induced by AhR, which dimerizes with the AhR nuclear translocator (Arnt), in response to many polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs). Similarly, the steroid family of orphan nuclear receptors, the constitutive androstane receptor (CAR) and pregnane X receptor (PXR), both heterodimerize with the retinoid X receptor (RXR), are shown to transcriptionally activate the promoters of CYP2B and CYP3A gene expression by xenobiotics such as phenobarbital-like compounds (CAR) and dexamethasone and rifampin-type of agents (PXR). The peroxisome proliferator activated receptor (PPAR), which is one of the first characterized members of the nuclear hormone receptor, also dimerizes with RXR and has been shown to be activated by lipid lowering agent fibrate-type of compounds leading to transcriptional activation of the promoters on CYP4A gene. CYP7A was recognized as the first target gene of the liver X receptor (LXR), in which the elimination of cholesterol depends on CYP7A. Farnesoid X receptor (FXR) was identified as a bile acid receptor, and its activation results in the inhibition of hepatic acid biosynthesis and increased transport of bile acids from intestinal lumen to the liver, and CYP7A is one of its target genes. The transcriptional activation by these receptors upon binding to the promoters located at the 5-flanking region of these CYP genes generally leads to the induction of their mRNA gene expression. The physiological and the pharmacological implications of common partner of RXR for CAR, PXR, PPAR, LXR and FXR receptors largely remain unknown and are under intense investigations. For the phase II DMEs, phase II gene inducers such as the phenolic compounds butylated hydroxyanisol (BHA), tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), green tea polyphenol (GTP), (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) and the isothiocyanates (PEITC, sulforaphane) generally appear to be electrophiles. They generally possess electrophilic-mediated stress response, resulting in the activation of bZIP transcription factors Nrf2 which dimerizes with Mafs and binds to the antioxidant/electrophile response element (ARE/EpRE) promoter, which is located in many phase II DMEs as well as many cellular defensive enzymes such as heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), with the subsequent induction of the expression of these genes. Phase III transporters, for example, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), multidrug resistance-associated proteins (MRPs), and organic anion transporting polypeptide 2 (OATP2) are expressed in many tissues such as the liver, intestine, kidney, and brain, and play crucial roles in drug absorption, distribution, and excretion. The orphan nuclear receptors PXR and CAR have been shown to be involved in the regulation of these transporters. Along with phase I and phase II enzyme induction, pretreatment with several kinds of inducers has been shown to alter the expression of phase III transporters, and alter the excretion of xenobiotics, which implies that phase III transporters may also be similarly regulated in a coordinated fashion, and provides an important mean to protect the body from xenobiotics insults. It appears that in general, exposure to phase I, phase II and phase III gene inducers may trigger cellular "stress" response leading to the increase in their gene expression, which ultimately enhance the elimination and clearance of these xenobiotics and/or other "cellular stresses" including harmful reactive intermediates such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), so that the body will remove the "stress" expeditiously. Consequently, this homeostatic response of the body plays a central role in the protection of the body against "environmental" insults such as those elicited by exposure to xenobiotics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Enzyme Induction* / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism
  • Xenobiotics / pharmacology*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Xenobiotics