Discovery of a Novel Microsomal Epoxide Hydrolase-Catalyzed Hydration of a Spiro Oxetane

Drug Metab Dispos. 2016 Aug;44(8):1341-8. doi: 10.1124/dmd.116.071142. Epub 2016 Jun 2.


Oxetane moieties are increasingly being used by the pharmaceutical industry as building blocks in drug candidates because of their pronounced ability to improve physicochemical parameters and metabolic stability of drug candidates. The enzymes that catalyze the biotransformation of the oxetane moiety are, however, not well studied. The in vitro metabolism of a spiro oxetane-containing compound AZD1979 [(3-(4-(2-oxa-6-azaspiro[3.3]heptan-6-ylmethyl)phenoxy)azetidin-1-yl)(5-(4-ethoxyphenyl)-1,3,4-oxadiazol-2-yl)methanone] was studied and one of its metabolites, M1, attracted our interest because its formation was NAD(P)H independent. The focus of this work was to elucidate the structure of M1 and to understand the mechanism(s) of its formation. We established that M1 was formed via hydration and ring opening of the oxetanyl moiety of AZD1979. Incubations of AZD1979 using various human liver subcellular fractions revealed that the hydration reaction leading to M1 occurred mainly in the microsomal fraction. The underlying mechanism as a hydration, rather than an oxidation reaction, was supported by the incorporation of (18)O from H2 (18)O into M1. Enzyme kinetics were performed probing the formation of M1 in human liver microsomes. The formation of M1 was substantially inhibited by progabide, a microsomal epoxide hydrolase inhibitor, but not by trans-4-[4-(1-adamantylcarbamoylamino)cyclohexyloxy]benzoic acid, a soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitor. On the basis of these results, we propose that microsomal epoxide hydrolase catalyzes the formation of M1. The substrate specificity of microsomal epoxide hydrolase should therefore be expanded to include not only epoxides but also the oxetanyl ring system present in AZD1979.

MeSH terms

  • Azetidines / chemistry
  • Azetidines / metabolism*
  • Biotransformation
  • Catalysis
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Epoxide Hydrolases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Epoxide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Microsomes, Liver / drug effects
  • Microsomes, Liver / enzymology*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oxadiazoles / chemistry
  • Oxadiazoles / metabolism*
  • Substrate Specificity
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology


  • AZD1979
  • Azetidines
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Oxadiazoles
  • progabide
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Epoxide Hydrolases
  • EPHX1 protein, human