Biomechanisms of cocaine-induced hepatocyte injury mediated by the formation of reactive metabolites

Arch Toxicol. 1991;65(5):351-60. doi: 10.1007/BF02284256.


Cocaine is an intrinsic hepatotoxin in laboratory animals, and there is growing evidence that high doses of cocaine can precipitate hepatic necrosis in humans. The rodent model of cocaine hepatotoxicity is commensurate with the concept that a multistep mainly cytochrome P-450 dependent N-oxidative pathway is responsible for the expression of hepatocellular injury. Among the possible biomechanisms by which cocaine exerts its cytotoxic effects, direct oxidative damage by reactive oxygen species generated by redox cycling during the metabolic cascade seems most important. The role of the ensuing lipid peroxidation and protein thiol oxidation is less clear. Similarly, the functional role of irreversible (covalent) binding of a not yet defined electrophilic cocaine intermediate to hepatocellular proteins remains enigmatic so long as the critical molecular targets have not been identified. Finally, glutathione plays a pivotal protective role against cocaine-induced hepatic injury. Interactions with ethanol or inducers of the expression of the cytochrome P-450IIB subfamily can potentiate cocaine hepatotoxicity. Thus, the net amount of the ultimate reactive species seems to determine the severity of the hepatic lesions and to be responsible for the marked interspecies, interstrain, and sex differences. Recent advances in culture techniques of hepatocytes and precision-cut liver slices from various species including man have made it possible to correlate cocaine biotransformation with cytotoxicity and to selectively study the putative cellular mechanisms. Clearly, more studies are necessary to further illuminate our understanding of the role of the biochemical and molecular events precipitating hepatic necrosis during cocaine-mediated hepatotoxicity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Cocaine / metabolism
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / physiology
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Glutathione / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Protein Binding


  • Ethanol
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Glutathione
  • Cocaine