Decreased glucuronidation and increased bioactivation of acetaminophen in Gilbert's syndrome

Gastroenterology. 1992 Feb;102(2):577-86. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(92)90106-9.


Gilbert's syndrome occurs in 5%-7% of the human population and is caused by an inherited deficiency in the glucuronidation of endogenous bilirubin, resulting in its accumulation and jaundice. The authors of the present study have previously shown that rats with a similar deficiency in bilirubin glucuronidation (Gunn rats) had reduced glucuronidation and enhanced susceptibility to the toxicity of the widely used analgesic, acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is eliminated primarily by glucuronidation, which prevents its cytochrome P-450-catalysed bioactivation to a hepatotoxic reactive intermediate. The purpose of this study was to determine whether people with Gilbert's syndrome had reduced glucuronidation and enhanced bioactivation of acetaminophen. Therefore, the biotransformation of acetaminophen, 20 mg/kg IV, was investigated in six subjects with Gilbert's syndrome (total bilirubin, 41 +/- 6 mumol/L; mean +/- SE) and six normal controls (total bilirubin, 11 +/- 2 mumol/L; P less than 0.01). Formation of the acetaminophen glucuronide conjugate measured by high-performance liquid chromatography was quantified by the ratio of the area under the plasma concentration-time curve (AUC) from 0 to 2 hours for the acetaminophen glucuronide divided by the AUC for acetaminophen. Acetaminophen bioactivation was quantified by the molar percentage of acetaminophen excreted in the urine during 24 hours as glutathione-derived conjugates (cysteine and mercapturic acid). Acetaminophen glucuronide formation in subjects with Gilbert's syndrome was 31% lower than that in normal controls (0.27 +/- 0.05 vs. 0.39 +/- 0.03; P less than 0.05), and bioactivation was 1.7-fold higher (3.5% +/- 0.4% vs. 2.1% +/- 0.3%; P less than 0.05). One control subject with normal bilirubin glucuronidation had substantially decreased acetaminophen glucuronide formation (0.20) and enhanced bioactivation (4.8%). Among all subjects, glucuronidation correlated inversely with bioactivation (r = -0.84; P less than 0.001), indicating that a decrease in a major pathway of elimination can shunt more drug through the toxifying route. Thus, a deficiency in bilirubin UDP-glucuronosyltransferase, evidenced by jaundice, can be paralleled by a deficiency in glucuronidation of other compounds. In these cases, jaundice can be a phenotypic determinant of enhanced acetaminophen bioactivation. On the other hand, some people with normal bilirubin glucuronidation may have a deficiency in the glucuronidation of acetaminophen; these people are not easily recognized.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / blood
  • Acetaminophen / pharmacokinetics*
  • Acetaminophen / urine
  • Adult
  • Biotransformation / physiology
  • Gilbert Disease / blood
  • Gilbert Disease / metabolism*
  • Gilbert Disease / urine
  • Glucuronates / metabolism*
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / deficiency
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate / physiology


  • Glucuronates
  • Acetaminophen
  • Glucuronosyltransferase