An investigation of the relationship between the hepatotoxicity and the metabolism of N-alkylformamides

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1987 Jan;240(1):265-70.


The hepatotoxicity and metabolism of the following close analogs of the hepatotoxic antitumor agent N-methylformamide (NMF) were investigated in CBA/CA mice: N-ethylformamide (NEF), dimethylformamide (DMF), formamide and N-methylacetamide (NMA). Apart from NMF only NEF was potently hepatotoxic as measured by the elevation of plasma activities of the enzymes sorbitol dehydrogenase and alanine and aspartate aminotransferases 24 hr after drug administration. In freeze-dried urine samples of mice which had received NEF or NMF, but not in the case of DMF, formamide or NMA, thioesters were detected by thin-layer chromatography. Evidence based on high-pressure liquid chromatography analysis and 400 MHz 1H-NMR and mass spectrometry suggests that the thioester metabolite of NEF is S-(N-ethylcarbamoyl)-N-acetylcysteine. It has been shown previously that NMF is metabolized to S-(N-methylcarbamoyl)-N-acetylcysteine. NEF also underwent extensive metabolism to ethylamine; similarly NMF was biotransformed to methylamine. In contrast, the urine of mice which had received DMF contained only very small amounts of dimethylamine and methylamine could not be detected as a metabolite of NMA. Instead, the major metabolite of NMA was identified by 400 MHz 1H-NMR spectrometry as N-(hydroxymethyl)acetamide. DMF is known to undergo extensive metabolism to its N-hydroxymethyl derivative. The results suggest that two metabolic pathways of N-alkylformamides can be distinguished: Hydroxylation at the alpha-carbon of the N-alkyl group and oxidation of the formyl moiety. The former pathway presumably constitutes a detoxification route, and the latter may well be associated with hepatotoxicity, and affords a glutathione conjugate, excreted in the urine as a mercapturate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetamides / toxicity*
  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Animals
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / blood
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Dimethylformamide / toxicity*
  • Formamides / toxicity*
  • L-Iditol 2-Dehydrogenase / blood
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Thiocarbamates / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Acetamides
  • Formamides
  • Thiocarbamates
  • formamide
  • N-ethylformamide
  • Dimethylformamide
  • L-Iditol 2-Dehydrogenase
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases
  • Alanine Transaminase
  • N-methylacetamide
  • methylformamide