Biochemical mechanisms in drug-induced liver injury: certainties and doubts

World J Gastroenterol. 2009 Oct 21;15(39):4865-76. doi: 10.3748/wjg.15.4865.


Drug-induced liver injury is a significant and still unresolved clinical problem. Limitations to knowledge about the mechanisms of toxicity render incomplete the detection of hepatotoxic potential during preclinical development. Several xenobiotics are lipophilic substances and their transformation into hydrophilic compounds by the cytochrome P-450 system results in production of toxic metabolites. Aging, preexisting liver disease, enzyme induction or inhibition, genetic variances, local O(2) supply and, above all, the intrinsic molecular properties of the drug may affect this process. Necrotic death follows antioxidant consumption and oxidation of intracellular proteins, which determine increased permeability of mitochondrial membranes, loss of potential, decreased ATP synthesis, inhibition of Ca(2+)-dependent ATPase, reduced capability to sequester Ca(2+) within mitochondria, and membrane bleb formation. Conversely, activation of nucleases and energetic participation of mitochondria are the main intracellular mechanisms that lead to apoptosis. Non-parenchymal hepatic cells are inducers of hepatocellular injury and targets for damage. Activation of the immune system promotes idiosyncratic reactions that result in hepatic necrosis or cholestasis, in which different HLA genotypes might play a major role. This review focuses on current knowledge of the mechanisms of drug-induced liver injury and recent advances on newly discovered mechanisms of liver damage. Future perspectives including new frontiers for research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Calcium-Transporting ATPases / metabolism
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / metabolism*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / pathology
  • Cholestasis / etiology
  • Cholestasis / metabolism
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Liver / immunology
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial
  • Microsomes, Liver / metabolism
  • Mitochondria, Liver / metabolism
  • Necrosis
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Signal Transduction


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Calcium-Transporting ATPases