Metabolism of xenobiotics of human environments

Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2012:112:31-88. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-415813-9.00003-9.


Xenobiotics have been defined as chemicals to which an organism is exposed that are extrinsic to the normal metabolism of that organism. Without metabolism, many xenobiotics would reach toxic concentrations. Most metabolic activity inside the cell requires energy, cofactors, and enzymes in order to occur. Xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes can be divided into phase I, phase II, and transporter enzymes. Lipophilic xenobiotics are often first metabolized by phase I enzymes, which function to make xenobiotics more polar and provide sites for conjugation reactions. Phase II enzymes are conjugating enzymes and can directly interact with xenobiotics but more commonly interact with metabolites produced by phase I enzymes. Through both passive and active transport, these more polar metabolites are eliminated. Most xenobiotics are cleared through multiple enzymes and pathways. The relationship between chemical concentrations, enzyme affinity and quantity, and cofactor availability often determine which metabolic reactions dominate in a given individual.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism*


  • Xenobiotics