Phenobarbital and phenytoin increased acetaminophen hepatotoxicity due to inhibition of UDP-glucuronosyltransferases in cultured human hepatocytes

Toxicol Sci. 2005 Sep;87(1):146-55. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfi211. Epub 2005 Jun 2.


Here we present a preclinical model to assess drug-drug interactions due to inhibition of glucuronidation. Treatment with the antiepileptics phenobarbital (PB) or phenytoin (PH) has been associated with increased incidence of acetaminophen (APAP) hepatotoxicity in patients. In human hepatocytes, we found that the toxicity of APAP (5 mM) was increased by simultaneous treatment with phenobarbital (2 mM) or phenytoin (0.2 mM). In contrast, pretreatment with PB for 48 h prior to APAP treatment did not increase APAP toxicity unless both drugs were present simultaneously. Cells treated with APAP in combination with PB or PH experienced decreases in protein synthesis as early as 1 h, ultrastructural changes by 24 h, and release of liver enzymes by 48 h. Toxicity correlated with inhibition of APAP glucuronidation. PB or PH also inhibited APAP glucuronidation in rat and human liver microsomes and expressed human UGT1A6, 1A9, and 2B15. As with intact hepatocytes, PB and PH were neither hydroxylated nor glucuronidated, suggesting the direct inhibition of UGTs. Our findings suggest that, in multiple drug therapy, an inhibitory complex between UGT and one of the drugs can lead to decreased glucuronidation and increased systemic exposure and toxicity of a coadministered drug.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / metabolism
  • Acetaminophen / toxicity*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Drug Interactions
  • Glucuronides / metabolism
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / enzymology
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Phenobarbital / pharmacology*
  • Phenytoin / pharmacology*


  • Glucuronides
  • Acetaminophen
  • Phenytoin
  • Glucuronosyltransferase
  • Glutathione
  • Phenobarbital