Repeat exposure to incremental doses of acetaminophen provides protection against acetaminophen-induced lethality in mice: an explanation for high acetaminophen dosage in humans without hepatic injury

Hepatology. 1999 Feb;29(2):451-63. doi: 10.1002/hep.510290241.


In studies designed to simulate a clinical observation in which an individual became tolerant to normally lethal doses of acetaminophen (APAP), mice were pretreated with increasing doses of APAP for 8 days and challenged on day 9 with normally supralethal doses of APAP. These animals developed minimal hepatotoxicity after a challenge dose with a fourfold increase in LD50 to 1,350 mg/kg. The pretreatment regimen resulted in hepatic changes including: centrilobular localization of 3-(cysteine-S-yl)APAP protein adducts, selective down-regulation of cytochrome P4502E1 (CYP2E1) and CYP1A2 that produced the toxic metabolite, N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine, higher levels of reduced glutathione (GSH), centrilobular inflammation, and a fourfold increase in hepatocellular proliferation. The protection against the lethal APAP doses afforded by pretreatment is secondary to these changes and to the associated regional shift in the bioactivation of the APAP challenge dose from centrilobular to periportal regions where CYP2E1 is not found, protective GSH is more abundant, and where cell-proliferative responses are better able to sustain repair. This shift in APAP bioactivation results in less-intense covalent binding that is more diffuse and spread uniformly throughout the hepatic lobe, most likely contributing to protection by delaying the early onset of liver injury that has been generally associated with centrilobular localization of the adducts. Intervention of APAP pretreatment-induced cell division in mice with colchicine left them resistant to a 500-mg/kg (normally lethal) dose of APAP, but unable to survive a 1,000-mg/kg APAP challenge dose. The data demonstrate multiple mechanistic components to the protection afforded by APAP pretreatment. Whereas metabolic and physiological changes not dependent on cell proliferation are adequate to protect against 500 mg/kg APAP, these changes plus a potentiated cell-proliferative response are necessary for protection against the supralethal 1,000-mg/kg APAP dose. Furthermore, the data document an uncoupling of the traditional association between covalent binding and toxicity, and suggest that the assessment of toxicity following repeated or chronic APAP exposure must consider altered drug interactions and parameters besides those historically used to assess acute APAP overdose.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / administration & dosage*
  • Acetaminophen / analysis
  • Acetaminophen / toxicity*
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic*
  • Animals
  • Cell Division
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A2 / metabolism
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1 / metabolism
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Diseases / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Substance-Related Disorders


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Acetaminophen
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A2
  • Glutathione