Mechanisms of N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine cytotoxicity

Mol Pharmacol. 1985 Sep;28(3):306-11.


N-Acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI), a reactive metabolite of acetaminophen, rapidly reacts at physiological pH with glutathione (GSH) forming an acetaminophen-glutathione conjugate and stoichiometric amounts of acetaminophen and glutathione disulfide (GSSG). The same reaction products are formed in isolated hepatocytes incubated with NAPQI. In hepatocytes which have been treated with 1,3-bis-(2-chloroethyl)-1-nitrosourea (BCNU) in order to inhibit glutathione reductase, the initial rise in GSSG concentration in the presence of NAPQI is maintained, whereas GSSG is rapidly reduced back to GSH in untreated hepatocytes. Oxidation by NAPQI of GSH to GSSG and the reduction of GSSG back to GSH by the NADPH-dependent glutathione reductase appear to be responsible for the rapid oxidation of NADPH that occurs in hepatocytes incubated with NAPQI in that the effect is blocked by pretreatment of cells with BCNU. When added to hepatocytes, NAPQI not only reacts with GSH but also causes a loss in protein thiol groups. The loss in protein thiols occurs more rapidly in cells pretreated with BCNU or diethylmaleate. Whereas both of these treatments enhance cytotoxicity caused by NAPQI, BCNU pretreatment has no effect on the covalent binding of [14C-ring]NAPQI to cellular proteins. Furthermore, dithiothreitol added to isolated hepatocytes after maximal covalent binding of [14C-ring]NAPQI but preceding cell death protects cells from cytotoxicity and regenerates protein thiols. Thus, the toxicity of NAPQI to isolated hepatocytes may result primarily from its oxidative effects on cellular proteins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / metabolism
  • Acetaminophen / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Benzoquinones*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Dithiothreitol / pharmacology
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Imines / metabolism
  • Imines / toxicity*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Male
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Benzoquinones
  • Imines
  • Acetaminophen
  • NADP
  • N-acetyl-4-benzoquinoneimine
  • Glutathione
  • Dithiothreitol