Gut Reactions: Breaking Down Xenobiotic-Microbiome Interactions

Pharmacol Rev. 2019 Apr;71(2):198-224. doi: 10.1124/pr.118.015768.


The microbiome plays a key role in health and disease, and there has been considerable interest in therapeutic targeting of the microbiome as well as mining this rich resource in drug discovery efforts. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that the gut microbiota can itself influence the actions of a range of xenobiotics, in both beneficial and potentially harmful ways. Traditionally, clinical studies evaluating the pharmacokinetics of new drugs have mostly ignored the important direct and indirect effects of the gut microbiome on drug metabolism and efficacy. Despite some important observations from xenobiotic metabolism in general, there is only an incomplete understanding of the scope of influence of the microbiome specifically on drug metabolism and absorption, and how this might influence systemic concentrations of parent compounds and toxic metabolites. The significance of both microbial metabolism of xenobiotics and the impact of the gut microbiome on host hepatic enzyme systems is nonetheless gaining traction and presents a further challenge in drug discovery efforts, with implications for improving treatment outcomes or counteracting adverse drug reactions. Microbial factors must now be considered when determining drug pharmacokinetics and the impact that an evolving and dynamic microbiome could have in this regard. In this review, we aim to integrate the contribution of the gut microbiome in health and disease to xenobiotic metabolism focusing on therapeutic interventions, pharmacological drug action, and chemical biotransformations that collectively will have implications for the future practice of precision medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Discovery / methods
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / epidemiology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Precision Medicine / methods
  • Xenobiotics / adverse effects
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism*
  • Xenobiotics / pharmacology


  • Xenobiotics