Glucuronidation of racemic O-desmethyltramadol, the active metabolite of tramadol

Eur J Pharm Sci. 2010 Nov 20;41(3-4):523-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ejps.2010.08.005. Epub 2010 Aug 24.


O-Desmethyltramadol, the active metabolite of analgesic tramadol, is metabolised through glucuronidation. The present study was conducted to identify the human UDP-glucuronosyltransferases (UGTs) that catalyse the glucuronidation of O-desmethyltramadol, a racemic mixture of 1R,2R- and 1S,2S-enantiomers. We developed a fast and selective liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry method to separate, analyse and quantify the diastereomeric phenolic O-glucuronides of O-desmethyltramadol. To quantify O-desmethyltramadol glucuronidation, we biosynthesised both phenolic O-glucuronides of O-desmethyltramadol and verified their structure by mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Subsequently, the 16 human UGTs of subfamilies 1A and 2B were screened for O-desmethyltramadol glucuronidation activity. UGTs 1A7-1A10 exhibited a strict stereoselectivity, exclusively glucuroniding the 1R,2R-enantiomer. Similar though not strict enantioselectivity was exhibited by UGT2B15. UGT2B7, on the other hand, glucuronidated both O-desmethyltramadol enantiomers, with slight preference for 1S,2S-O-desmethyltramadol. Enzyme kinetic parameters were determined for the most active UGTs, 1A8 and 2B7. The apparent K(m) or S(50) values were high: 1.2mM±0.23 for 1R,2R-O-desmethyltramadol with UGT1A8 and 1.84±1.2 and 4.6±2.0mM for 1S,2S- and 1R,2R-O-desmethyltramadol enantiomers with UGT2B7, respectively. Glucuronidation analyses of O-desmethyltramadol with human liver microsomes exhibited stereoselectivity, favouring the 1S,2S-O-desmethyltramadol over 1R,2R-O-desmethyltramadol and yielding 62.4 and 24.6pmol/mg/min, respectively. In intestinal microsomes, on the other hand, the two enantiomers were glucuronidated at similar rates, about 6pmol/mg/min. The results shed new light on both tramadol metabolism and the substrate selectivity of the human UGTs.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Glucuronides / metabolism*
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / classification
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Tramadol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Tramadol / chemistry
  • Tramadol / metabolism*


  • Analgesics
  • Glucuronides
  • Protein Isoforms
  • O-demethyltramadol
  • Tramadol
  • Glucuronosyltransferase