Emerging roles for UDP-glucuronosyltransferases in drug resistance and cancer progression

Br J Cancer. 2020 Apr;122(9):1277-1287. doi: 10.1038/s41416-019-0722-0. Epub 2020 Feb 12.


The best-known role of UDP-glucuronosyltransferase enzymes (UGTs) in cancer is the metabolic inactivation of drug therapies. By conjugating glucuronic acid to lipophilic drugs, UGTs impair the biological activity and enhance the water solubility of these agents, driving their elimination. Multiple clinical observations support an expanding role for UGTs as modulators of the drug response and in mediating drug resistance in numerous cancer types. However, accumulating evidence also suggests an influence of the UGT pathway on cancer progression. Dysregulation of the expression and activity of UGTs has been associated with the progression of several cancers, arguing for UGTs as possible mediators of oncogenic pathways and/or disease accelerators in a drug-naive context. The consequences of altered UGT activity on tumour biology are incompletely understood. They might be associated with perturbed levels of bioactive endogenous metabolites such as steroids and bioactive lipids that are inactivated by UGTs or through non-enzymatic mechanisms, thereby eliciting oncogenic signalling cascades. This review highlights the evidence supporting dual roles for the UGT pathway, affecting cancer progression and drug resistance. Pharmacogenomic testing of UGT profiles in patients and the development of therapeutic options that impair UGT actions could provide useful prognostic and predictive biomarkers and enhance the efficacy of anti-cancer drugs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Uridine Diphosphate / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Uridine Diphosphate
  • Glucuronosyltransferase