Zafirlukast metabolism by cytochrome P450 3A4 produces an electrophilic alpha,beta-unsaturated iminium species that results in the selective mechanism-based inactivation of the enzyme

Chem Res Toxicol. 2005 Sep;18(9):1427-37. doi: 10.1021/tx050092b.


Zafirlukast is a leukotriene antagonist indicated for the treatment of mild to moderate asthma, but the drug has been associated with occasional idiosyncratic hepatotoxicity. Structurally, zafirlukast is similar to 3-methylindole because it contains an N-methylindole moiety that has a 3-alkyl substituent on the indole ring. The results presented here describe the metabolic activation of zafirlukast via a similar mechanism to that described for 3-methylindole. NADP(H)-dependent biotransformation of zafirlukast by hepatic microsomes from rats and humans afforded a reactive metabolite, which was detected as its GSH adduct. Mass spectrometry and NMR data indicated that the GSH adduct was formed by the addition of GSH to the methylene carbon between the indole- and methoxy-substituted phenyl rings of zafirlukast. The formation of this reactive metabolite in human liver microsomes was shown to be exclusively catalyzed by CYP3A enzymes. Evidence for in vivo metabolic activation of zafirlukast was obtained when the same GSH adduct was detected in bile of rats given an iv or oral dose of the drug. On the basis of results with model peroxidases and of the structures of product alcohols from incubations containing H2(18)O, it appeared that zafirlukast underwent dehydrogenation by two sequential one-electron oxidations. In addition, zafirlukast proved to be a mechanism-based inhibitor of CYP3A4 activity in human liver microsomes and in microsomes containing cDNA-expressed CYP3A4. The enzyme inhibitory property of zafirlukast was selective for this enzyme among all of the P450 enzymes that were tested in human liver microsomes. The inactivation was characterized by a K(I) of 13.4 microM and k(inact) of 0.026 min(-1). In summary, zafirlukast dehydrogenation to an electrophilic alpha,beta-unsaturated iminium intermediate may be associated with idiosyncratic hepatotoxicity and/or cause drug-drug interactions through inactivation of CYP3A4.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation / drug effects
  • Imines / chemistry*
  • Imines / pharmacology*
  • Indoles
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Microsomes, Liver / drug effects
  • Microsomes, Liver / enzymology
  • Molecular Structure
  • Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Phenylcarbamates
  • Rats
  • Sulfonamides
  • Time Factors
  • Tosyl Compounds / chemistry*
  • Tosyl Compounds / metabolism*
  • Tosyl Compounds / pharmacokinetics


  • Imines
  • Indoles
  • Phenylcarbamates
  • Sulfonamides
  • Tosyl Compounds
  • Peroxidase
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A
  • Glutathione
  • zafirlukast