Arylamine N-acetyltransferases: what we learn from genes and genomes

Drug Metab Rev. 2005;37(3):511-64. doi: 10.1080/03602530500251204.


Arylamine N-acetyltransferases (NATs) are phase II xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes, catalyzing acetyl-CoA-dependent N- and O-acetylation reactions. All NATs have a conserved cysteine protease-like Cys-His-Asp catalytic triad inside their active site cleft. Other residues determine substrate specificity, while the C-terminus may control hydrolysis of acetyl-CoA during acetyltransfer. Prokaryotic NAT-like coding sequences are found in >30 bacterial genomes, including representatives of Actinobacteria, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria. Of special interest are the nat genes of TB-causing Mycobacteria, since their protein products inactivate the anti-tubercular drug isoniazid. Targeted inactivation of mycobacterial nat leads to impaired mycolic acid synthesis, cell wall damage and growth retardation. In eukaryotes, genes for NAT are found in the genomes of certain fungi and all examined vertebrates, with the exception of canids. Humans have two NAT isoenzymes, encoded by highly polymorphic genes on chromosome 8p22. Syntenic regions in rodent genomes harbour two Nat loci, which are functionally equivalent to the human NAT genes, as well as an adjacent third locus with no known function. Vertebrate genes for NAT invariably have a complex structure, with one or more non-coding exons located upstream of a single, intronless coding region. Ubiquitously expressed transcripts of human NAT1 and its orthologue, murine Nat2, are initiated from promoters with conserved Sp1 elements. However, in humans, additional tissue-specific NAT transcripts may be expressed from alternative promoters and subjected to differential splicing. Laboratory animals have been widely used as models to study the effects of NAT polymorphism. Recently generated knockout mice have normal phenotypes, suggesting no crucial endogenous role for NAT. However, these strains will be useful for understanding the involvement of NAT in carcinogenesis, an area extensively investigated by epidemiologists, often with ambiguous results.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase / genetics*
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Genome
  • Humans


  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase