The role of conjugation reactions in detoxication

Arch Toxicol. 1987;60(1-3):22-9. doi: 10.1007/BF00296941.


The role of conjugating enzymes is best understood by looking at the interaction between phase I (mostly cytochromes P-450) and phase II (conjugation) enzymes of drug metabolism. A balance between phase I and II enzymes of detoxication largely determines the disposition to drug toxicity. Reactive electrophilic metabolites, generated by phase I enzymes, are often controlled by GSH-transferases, whereas nucleophilic metabolites such as phenols are controlled by UDP-glucuronosyltransferases (GT) and sulfotransferases. It is more and more recognized that the control of the more stable and more abundant nucleophiles is as important as the control of electrophiles, since the former can be readily converted to electrophiles. For example, phenols and quinols can undergo quinone/quinol redox-cycles with the generation of reactive oxygen species. In the case of benzo(a)pyrene-3,6-quinol toxicity can be prevented by glucuronidation. Conjugating enzymes consist of families of isoenzymes with distinct but overlapping substrate specificity. Rather than dealing with individual isoenzymes, adaptive programs are emphasized by which gene expression of a battery of phase I and II enzymes is turned on by certain types of inducing agents. Mechanistically best known is the program turned on by 3-methylcholanthrene-type inducers which includes enhanced synthesis of certain isoenzymes of cytochrome P-450, GT and probably GSH-transferase. The program may adapt the organism to efficiently detoxify and eliminate aromatic compounds such as benzo(a)pyrene. Evidence is presented that this program exists in both rodents and humans.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Humans
  • Inactivation, Metabolic*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations