Sulfate conjugation in drug metabolism: role of inorganic sulfate

Fed Proc. 1986 Jul;45(8):2235-40.


Conjugation with sulfate is a major pathway for the biotransformation of phenolic drugs in humans and many animal species. It is a process of limited capacity; the extent of sulfate conjugate formation and the metabolic clearance of drugs subject to conjugation with sulfate depend therefore on the dose, the dosage form, the route of administration, and the rate and duration of administration as well as on the pharmacokinetic parameters of competing processes. The effect of these variables is exemplified by the pharmacokinetics of salicylamide and acetaminophen in humans and rats. In our experience so far, the proximate cause of the nonlinear pharmacokinetics of sulfate conjugation of phenolic drugs is the limited availability and consequent depletion of inorganic sulfate. When this is prevented by direct or indirect (via sulfate donors such as N-acetylcysteine) repletion, the saturability of phenol sulfotransferase (EC activity can become evident. The major mechanism of inorganic sulfate homeostasis is nonlinear renal clearance, which is due largely to saturable renal tubular reabsorption. Systemic depletion of inorganic sulfate secondary to utilization of this anion for the sulfation of drugs affects the availability of sulfate in the central nervous system and may, therefore, modify the disposition of certain neurotransmitters and other endogenous substances that are subject to sulfate conjugation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects
  • Acetaminophen / metabolism*
  • Acetylcysteine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Arylsulfotransferase
  • Biotransformation
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology
  • Computers
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Rats
  • Salicylamides / metabolism*
  • Sulfates / deficiency
  • Sulfates / metabolism*
  • Sulfurtransferases / metabolism


  • Salicylamides
  • Sulfates
  • Acetaminophen
  • Sulfurtransferases
  • Arylsulfotransferase
  • salicylamide
  • Acetylcysteine