Cytochrome P450-catalysed arene-epoxidation of the bioactive tea tree oil ingredient p-cymene: indication for the formation of a reactive allergenic intermediate?

Xenobiotica. 2009 Sep;39(9):663-71. doi: 10.1080/00498250902989094.


1. The cytochrome P450-mediated metabolism of the tea tree oil ingredient p-cymene (p-isopropyltoluene) was studied by the application of in vitro enzymatic assays using different recombinant human cytochrome P450 enzymes. 2. In total, four enzymatic products were identified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The enzymatic products identified were: thymol (2-isopropyl-5-methylphenol), p-isopropylbenzyl alcohol, p,alpha,alpha-trimethylbenzyl alcohol, and p-isopropylbenzaldehyde. 3. The enzymatic products of p-cymene resulted from catalysed enzymatic arene-epoxidation and hydroxylation reactions by the studied cytochrome P450 enzymes. 4. An in vivo study could only confirm the formation of one enzymatic product, namely thymol. Thymol was identified after enzymatic hydrolysis of glucuronide and sulphate conjugates in collected blood and urine samples. 5. The obtained results may help to increase the understanding of cases where skin sensitization and irritation by tea tree oil-containing products that are involved with allergic reactions of users of these products. The results also indicate that skin sensitization and irritation reactions not only can be explained by the frequently in literature reported auto-oxidation of tea tree resulting in bioactive oxidized products, but also now by the formation of epoxide intermediates resulting from catalysed arene-epoxidation reactions by selected human cytochrome P450 enzymes which are also located in different organs in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Allergens / blood
  • Allergens / metabolism*
  • Allergens / urine
  • Catalysis
  • Cymenes
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Hypersensitivity / metabolism
  • Monoterpenes / chemistry
  • Monoterpenes / immunology
  • Monoterpenes / metabolism*
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Skin Diseases / metabolism
  • Tea Tree Oil / chemistry
  • Tea Tree Oil / metabolism*
  • Thymol / blood
  • Thymol / metabolism*
  • Thymol / urine


  • Allergens
  • Cymenes
  • Monoterpenes
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • 4-cymene
  • Thymol
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System