The mammalian carboxylesterases: from molecules to functions

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 1998;38:257-88. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pharmtox.38.1.257.


Multiple carboxylesterases (EC play an important role in the hydrolytic biotransformation of a vast number of structurally diverse drugs. These enzymes are major determinants of the pharmacokinetic behavior of most therapeutic agents containing ester or amide bonds. Carboxylesterase activity can be influenced by interactions of a variety of compounds either directly or at the level of enzyme regulation. Since a significant number of drugs are metabolized by carboxylesterase, altering the activity of this enzyme class has important clinical implications. Drug elimination decreases and the incidence of drug-drug interactions increases when two or more drugs compete for hydrolysis by the same carboxylesterase isozyme. Exposure to environmental pollutants or to lipophilic drugs can result in induction of carboxylesterase activity. Therefore, the use of drugs known to increase the microsomal expression of a particular carboxylesterase, and thus to increase associated drug hydrolysis capacity in humans, requires caution. Mammalian carboxylesterases represent a multigene family, the products of which are localized in the endoplasmic reticulum of many tissues. A comparison of the nucleotide and amino acid sequence of the mammalian carboxylesterases shows that all forms expressed in the rat can be assigned to one of three gene subfamilies with structural identities of more than 70% within each subfamily. Considerable confusion exists in the scientific community in regards to a systematic nomenclature and classification of mammalian carboxylesterase. Until recently, adequate sequence information has not been available such that valid links among the mammalian carboxylesterase gene family or evolutionary relationships could be established. However, sufficient basic data are now available to support such a novel classification system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / biosynthesis
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / chemistry
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases