Metabolic activation in drug-induced liver injury

Drug Metab Rev. 2012 Feb;44(1):18-33. doi: 10.3109/03602532.2011.605791. Epub 2011 Sep 23.


It is generally believed that metabolic bioactivation of drug molecules to form reactive metabolites, followed by their covalent binding to endogenous macromolecules, is one of the mechanisms that can lead to hepatotoxicity or idiosyncratic adverse drug reactions (IADRs). Although the role of bioactivation in drug-induced liver injury has been reasonably well established and accepted, and methodologies (e.g., structural alerts, reactive metabolite trapping, and covalent binding) continue to emerge in an attempt to detect the occurrence of bioactivation, the challenge remains to accurately predict the likelihood for idiosyncratic liver toxicity. Recent advances in risk-assessment methodologies, such as by the estimate of total body burden of covalent binding or by zone classification, taking the clinical dose into consideration, are positive steps toward improving risk assessment. The ability to better predict the potential of a drug candidate to cause IADRs will further be dependent upon a better understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms of such reactions. Until a thorough understanding of the relationship between liver toxicity and the formation of reactive metabolites is achieved, it appears, at present, that the most practical strategy in drug discovery and development to reduce the likelihood of idiosyncratic liver toxicity via metabolic activation is to minimize or eliminate the occurrence of bioactivation and, at the same time, to maximize the pharmacological potency (to minimze the clinical dose) of the drug of interest.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / metabolism*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / chemistry
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Quinones / chemistry
  • Quinones / metabolism
  • Risk Assessment


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Quinones