Adrenergic modulation of hepatotoxicity

Drug Metab Rev. 1997 Feb-May;29(1-2):329-53. doi: 10.3109/03602539709037587.


Summaries of the interactions caused by altering adrenoreceptor activity in conjunction with the administration of selected hepatotoxicants are provided in Table 2 and Fig. 1. These hepatotoxicants can be divided into two groups, one whose toxicity is increased by adrenergic agonist drugs (group I) and the other whose toxicity is decreased by adrenergic antagonists (group II). Group I includes carbon tetrachloride, acetaminophen, and methylphenidate. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect these chemicals have in common is the striking potentiation that occurs with cotreatment with certain adrenergic agonist drugs. For each of these, cotreatment with the appropriate adrenergic agent can result in massive hepatocellular necrosis from an otherwise nontoxic dose. In terms of the specific adrenoreceptors involved and mechanisms of potentiation, however, they have little in common. Potentiation of carbon tetrachloride hepatotoxicity appears to be mediated by alpha(2)-adrenoceptor stimulation, acetaminophen is potentiated by alpha(1)-adrenoreceptor agonists, and methylphenidate responds to beta(2)-adrenoreceptor stimulation. Studies of the potentiation of carbon tetrachloride and acetaminophen agree that the timing of adrenergic stimulation relative to the hepatotoxicant dose is critically important to the interaction but markedly different for these two toxicants. Acetaminophen was potentiated only when the adrenergic drug was administered as a 3-h pretreatment. This is apparently a consequence of a mechanism of potentiation that involves adrenergic depression of hepatic glutathione content and a requirement that peak effects on glutathione of both the adrenergic agent and acetaminophen be coincident. The mechanism of potentiation of carbon tetrachloride hepatotoxicity is uncertain but clearly does not involve hepatic glutathione content. In contrast to acetaminophen, adrenergic effects must occur within a time window a few hours after the carbon tetrachloride dose for potentiation to occur. The importance of dose timing has not been evaluated for adrenergic potentiation of methylphenidate hepatotoxicity, but it is clear that this interaction is based on yet a third mechanism. While only three hepatotoxicants of the group I type have been examined in detail, the diversity of receptor types and mechanisms involved suggest that this phenomenon may be relevant for a wide variety of hepatotoxic drugs and chemicals. This interaction is also of interest because factors or events that lead to increased adrenergic stimulation are common in everyday life. Most over-the-counter cold and allergy preparations contain sympathomimetic drugs, and many prescription drugs produce adrenergic effects as either an extension of the intended therapeutic effect or as a side effect. Stress and some disease states can also lead to significant increases in peripheral adrenergic activity, creating the potential for increased susceptibility to hepatic injury from exposure to certain drugs or chemicals. Cocaine and bromobenzene represent group II, chemicals whose hepatotoxicity is diminished by cotreatment with adrenergic antagonist drugs. In the case of cocaine, adrenergic antagonist cotreatment was capable of reducing serum alanine aminotransferase activities by approximately 50%. For bromobenzene, the protection afforded by adrenergic antagonist cotreatment was more profound, with minimal hepatic lesions resulting from doses of bromobenzene that otherwise produced lethal hepatic necrosis. For the chemicals in group II, experimental observations are consistent with a phenomenon in which adrenergic potentiation of toxicity is supplied by the hepatotoxicant itself. Both cocaine and bromobenzene, in hepatotoxic doses increase endogenous catecholamine levels. When the effects of the elevated catecholamines are removed with the appropriate adrenergic antagonist, much lower toxicity (presumably due only to the direct hepatotoxic effects of the drug or chemical) is obse

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists / toxicity
  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists / toxicity
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / physiopathology*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Receptors, Adrenergic / drug effects
  • Receptors, Adrenergic / physiology*


  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists
  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Receptors, Adrenergic