Intestinal absorption and metabolism of xenobiotics

Environ Health Perspect. 1979 Dec;33:61-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.793361.


There are five possible processes of intestinal absorption of xenobiotics. These are active transport, passive diffusions, pinocytosis, filtration through "pores," and lymphatic absorption. The passive diffusion is major process for transport of foreign chemicals across the intestine. Though the lymphatic absorption of drugs is not of any major therapeutic significance, the uptake of toxic chemicals such as 3-MC, benzpyrene, and DDT through lymphatics may enhance their toxicity, since they are distributed to other organ systems in the body without being metabolized by liver. A number of factors such as diet, motility of intestine, interference with gastrointestinal flora, changes in the rate of gastric emptying, age of the animal, and dissolution rate of xenobiotic can alter the rate of absorption of chemicals. Liver is the major site of metabolism of xenobiotics, but the contribution of intestinal metabolism of xenobiotic can influence the overall bioavailability of chemicals. The xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes located in endoplasmic reticulum of intestine possess biochemical characteristics similar to that of liver. In general, the rate of metabolism of xenobiotics by intestinal microsomal preparation is lower than that observed with similar hepatic microsomal preparations. The in vitro intestinal metabolism of xenobiotics is affected by several factors including age, sex, diurnal variations, species, and nutritional status of the animal. The intestinal xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes are stimulated by the pretreatment of animals with foreign chemicals, but this depends on the route of administration of chemicals, drug substrate and the animal species used. Rabbit intestinal drug metabolizing enzymes seem to be resistant to induction by foreign chemicals.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biological Availability
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Diffusion
  • Enzyme Induction
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / enzymology
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Microsomes / enzymology
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations