Phenobarbital mechanistic data and risk assessment: enzyme induction, enhanced cell proliferation, and tumor promotion

Pharmacol Ther. 1996;71(1-2):153-91. doi: 10.1016/0163-7258(96)00067-8.


Chronic exposure to high doses of phenobarbital (PB) causes hepatocellular adenomas in both mice and rats and hepatocellular carcinomas in some strains of mice. Long-term PB therapy has not been found to cause human tumors. PB is not DNA reactive, and most genotoxicity tests have yielded negative results. PB has been extensively studied as an epigenetic, rodent liver tumor promoter. At exposures causing rodent liver tumors, PB has measurable effects on hepatocytes: PB inhibits cell-to-cell communication; PB induces enzymes, including P450 cytochromes; PB stimulates proliferation and inhibits apoptosis of hepatocytes in neoplastic foci. Threshold exposures for some of these endpoints coincide with the threshold exposure for tumorigenesis.

Publication types

  • Consensus Development Conference
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Carcinogenicity Tests
  • Carcinogens / pharmacokinetics
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Enzyme Induction / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / enzymology
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phenobarbital / pharmacokinetics
  • Phenobarbital / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Risk Assessment


  • Carcinogens
  • Phenobarbital