Arylamine N-acetyltransferases: structural and functional implications of polymorphisms

Toxicology. 2008 Dec 30;254(3):170-83. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2008.08.022. Epub 2008 Sep 12.


Arylamine N-acetyltransferases (NATs) catalyse the N-acetylation of arylamines, arylhydroxylamines and arylhydrazines with the acetyl group being transferred from acetylCoenzyme A. As a result of many recent advances in NAT research there have been many recent reviews and the present paper gives a flavour of the excitement in the field. The NATs, which are cytosolic, were early examples of pharmacogenetic variation. Polymorphism in isoniazid inactivation resulting in slow acetylation was subsequently found to be due to SNPs in the gene encoding the human isoenzyme NAT2. There are two polymorphic genes (NAT1 and NAT2) encoded with a third pseudogene (NATP) at human 8p21.3. The gene structure of NAT1 and NAT2, with a single (NAT2) or multiple (NAT1) distant non-coding exons showing tissue specific splicing, opens possibilities for effects of polymorphisms outside the single coding exon. In humans, the substrate specificities of NAT1 and NAT2 are overlapping but distinct. The NAT2 isoenzyme, predominantly in liver and gut, acetylates sulphamethazine and arylhydrazine compounds. Slow acetylators are at increased risk of toxicity, e.g. isoniazid induced neurotoxicity and hydralazine-induced lupus. The human NAT1 isoenzyme is also polymorphic. It is expressed in many tissues, particularly in oestrogen receptor positive breast cancers. Human NAT1 has an endogenous role in acetylation of a folate catabolite with in vivo evidence from transgenic mice lacking the equivalent gene. For nomenclature see, the website maintained by David Hein. NAT homologues have been identified by bioinformatics analyses in zebrafish and these sequences are described, although the proteins have not yet been characterized. The first NAT crystallographic structure from Salmonella typhimurium identified the mechanism of acetyl transfer via a catalytic triad of Cys, His and Asp residues each essential for activity in all NATs. NATs from mycobacteria aided in identifying the substrate binding site and the acetylCoA binding pocket. Studies on the eukaryotic enzymes by NMR and crystallography have facilitated understanding substrate specificities of human NAT1 (5-aminosalicylate and p-aminobenzoic acid) and human NAT2 (sulphamethazine). The effect of "slow acetylator" SNPs in the coding region predominantly act through creating unstable protein that aggregates intracellularly prior to ubiquitination and degradation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase / genetics
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism*
  • Pharmacogenetics
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Pseudogenes
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Isoenzymes
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase
  • N-acetyltransferase 1
  • NAT2 protein, human