Guide to drug porphyrogenicity prediction and drug prescription in the acute porphyrias

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2007 Nov;64(5):668-79. doi: 10.1111/j.0306-5251.2007.02955.x. Epub 2007 Jun 19.


Aims: This paper addresses two common problems in the care of carriers of acute porphyria: the choice of safe drugs for pharmacotherapy and the strategy to apply when potentially unsafe drugs cannot be avoided.

Methods and results: A technique is presented for prediction of risk that a certain drug may activate the disease in a gene carrier for acute porphyria. It is based on a model explaining the clinical manifestations as a result of the acute overloading of a deficient enzyme within the hepatic heme biosynthetic chain. The capacity of the drug for induction of the rate-limiting enzyme in heme biosynthesis, e.g. housekeeping 5-aminolevulinate synthase (ALAS1), is assessed by critical appraisal of reports of the outcomes of clinical use of the drug, and by theoretical criteria. The assessment occurs within the frame of a flow-scheme employing variables of increasing specificity, i.e. endocrine properties of the drug, structure and metabolism pointing to affinity to cytochrome P450, hepatic load in therapeutic use, recognized affinity to major CYP species, capacity for CYP-induction or irreversible inhibition, and capacity to activate or modulate the transduction mechanisms of nuclear receptors affecting ALAS1-gene transcription. It is proposed that in the absence of a safer alternative, an urgently needed drug not should be withheld on the grounds of potential porphyrogenicity. After risk-benefit analysis it should be prescribed, but individualized preventive measures adapted to patient vulnerability may be needed.

Conclusions: About 1000 therapeutic drugs categorized with regard to porphyrogenicity by the technique proposed are presented on the internet (

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5-Aminolevulinate Synthetase / biosynthesis*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Porphyria, Acute Intermittent / drug therapy*
  • Porphyrinogens
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Porphyrinogens
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • 5-Aminolevulinate Synthetase