Drug Metabolism

In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan.


Most drugs are xenobiotics, ie, chemical substances not naturally produced by the body. Xenobiotics undergo various body processes for detoxification, thus reducing their toxicity and allowing them to be readily available for excretion. These processes allow for the chemical modification of drugs into their metabolites and are known as drug metabolism or metabolic biotransformation.

These metabolites are the byproducts of drug metabolism and can be characterized by active, inactive, and toxic metabolites. Active metabolites are biochemically active compounds with therapeutic effects, whereas inactive metabolites are biochemically inactive compounds with neither a therapeutic nor toxic effect. Toxic metabolites are biochemically active compounds similar to active metabolites but have various harmful effects.

Drug metabolism occurs at a specific location in the body, resulting in a low concentration of active metabolites in the systemic circulation. This phenomenon is called first-pass metabolism because it limits drug bioavailability. First-pass metabolism primarily occurs in the liver; however, metabolizing enzymes can be found throughout the body.

Understanding these alterations in chemical activity is crucial in utilizing the optimal pharmacological intervention for any patient. This is a topic of interest to any provider who routinely treats patients with medications.

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