A historical overview of the heterologous expression of mammalian UDP-glucuronosyltransferase isoforms over the past twenty years

Curr Drug Metab. 2005 Apr;6(2):141-60. doi: 10.2174/1389200053586127.


UDP-Glucuronosyltransferases (UGTs) are actively involved in detoxification of xenobiotics and endogenous compounds and are a major source of drug inactivation and drug-drug interactions. UGTs are membrane-bound enzymes mostly localized in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and inner and outer nuclear membranes. UGT activities are totally dependent on the phospholipid content of the membrane and, as a result, are usually inactive when isolated from the ER in the presence of detergent. Several UGT expression systems have been described by different laboratories. They include expression in mammalian cells such as COS, V79 and HEK293. Also, baculovirus-infected insect cells systems have been developed and allow the expression of UGT isoforms with or without histidine molecule tags (His-tags). Moreover, as for CYP450, UGT isoforms have been expressed in E.coli. This review concentrates on a detailed description of all these expression systems in terms of their use for substrate specificity studies and the preparation of pure UGT proteins for active site identification and other structural studies. The effect of detergents and alamethicin on UGT catalytic activity in different expression systems will be discussed. Moreover, extensive comparative studies on the characterization of recombinant UGTs in terms of substrate specificity, evaluation of kinetic parameters, and the effect of inhibitors will be presented in this review. An overall picture of the use of different UGT expression systems will help in selecting the best one for identification of the individual UGT isoforms involved in the glucuronidation of drugs, environmental pollutants and physiologically important endogenous compounds. Especially important is an expression system where UGTs are biosynthesized with His-tags. UGTs expressed in this system can be easily purified to homogeneity, which will result in significant development of structure-function relationship studies, including the identification of substrate active sites and eventual crystallization. These are underdeveloped areas of UGT research and the availability of these recombinant UGTs will allow these gaps to be filled.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / physiology*
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / biosynthesis*
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / genetics
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / biosynthesis
  • Isoenzymes / genetics


  • Isoenzymes
  • Glucuronosyltransferase