Human Drug Metabolism (I)
“It has been said that if a drug has no side effects, then it is unlikely to work. Drug therapy labours under the fundamental problem that usually every single cell in the body has to be treated just to exert a beneficial effect on a small group of cells, perhaps in one tissue. Although drug-targeting technology is improving rapidly, most of us who take an oral dose are still faced with the problem that the vast majority of our cells are being unnecessarily exposed to an agent that at best will have no effect, but at worst will exert many unwanted effects. Essentially, all drug treatment is really a compromise between positive and negative effects in the patient. […] This book is intended to provide a basic grounding in human drug metabolism, although it is useful if the reader has some knowledge of biochemistry, physiology and pharmacology from other sources. In addition, a qualitative understanding of chemistry can illuminate many facets of drug metabolism and toxicity. Although chemistry can be intimidating, I have tried to make the chemical aspects of drug metabolism as user-friendly as possible.”
I’m currently reading this book. To say that it is ‘useful if the reader has some knowledge’ of the topics mentioned is putting it mildly; I’d say it’s mandatory – my advice would be to stay far away from this book if you know nothing of pharmacology, biochem, and physiology. I know enough to follow most of the coverage, at least in terms of the big picture stuff, but some of the biochemistry details I frankly have been unable to follow; I think I could probably understand all of it if I were willing to look up all the words and concepts with which I’m unfamiliar, but I’m not willing to spend the time to do that. In this context it should also be mentioned that the book is very well written, in the sense that it is perfectly possible to read the book and follow the basic outline of what’s going on without necessarily understanding all details, so I don’t feel that the coverage in any way discourages me from reading the book the way I am – the significance of that hydrogen bond in the diagram will probably become apparent to you later, and even if it doesn’t you’ll probably manage.
In terms of general remarks about the book, a key point to be mentioned early on is also that the book is very dense and has a lot of interesting stuff. I find it hard at the moment to justify devoting time to blogging, but if that were not the case I’d probably feel tempted to cover this book in a lot of detail, with multiple posts delving into specific fascinating aspects of the coverage. Despite this being a book where I don’t really understand everything that’s going on all the time, I’m definitely at a five star rating at the moment, and I’ve read close to two-thirds of it at this point.
A few quotes:
“The process of drug development weeds out agents [or at least tries to weed out agents… – US] that have seriously negative actions and usually releases onto the market drugs that may have a profile of side effects, but these are relatively minor within a set concentration range where the drug’s pharmacological action is most effective. This range, or ‘therapeutic window’ is rather variable, but it will give some indication of the most ‘efficient’ drug concentration. This effectively means the most beneficial pharmacodynamic effects for the minimum side effects.”
If the dose is too low, you have a case of drug failure, where the drug doesn’t work. If the dose is too high, you experience toxicity. Both outcomes are problematic, but they manifest in different ways. Drug failure is usually a gradual process (days – “Therapeutic drug failure is usually a gradual process, where the time frame may be days before the problem is detected”), whereas toxicity may be of very rapid onset (hours).
“To some extent, every patient has a unique therapeutic window for each drug they take, as there is such huge variation in our pharmacodynamic drug sensitivities. This book is concerned with what systems influence how long a drug stays in our bodies. […] [The therapeutic index] has been defined as the ratio between the lethal or toxic dose and the effective dose that shows the normal range of pharmacological effect. In practice, a drug […] is listed as having a narrow TI if there is less than a twofold difference between the lethal and effective doses, or a twofold difference in the minimum toxic and minimum effective concentrations. Back in the 1960s, many drugs in common use had narrow TIs […] that could be toxic at relatively low levels. Over the last 30 years, the drug industry has aimed to replace this type of drug with agents with much higher TIs. […] However, there are many drugs […] which remain in use that have narrow or relatively narrow TIs”.
“metabolites are usually removed from the cell faster than the parent drug”
“The kidneys are mostly responsible for […] removal, known as elimination. The kidneys cannot filter large chemical entities like proteins, but they can remove the majority of smaller chemicals, depending on size, charge and water solubility. […] the kidney is a lipophilic (oil-loving) organ […] So the kidney is not efficient at eliminating lipophilic chemicals. One of the major roles of the liver is to use biotransforming enzymes to ensure that lipophilic agents are made water soluble enough to be cleared by the kidney. So the liver has an essential but indirect role in clearance, in that it must extract the drug from the circulation, biotransform (metabolize) it, then return the water-soluble product to the blood for the kidney to remove. The liver can also actively clear or physically remove its metabolic products from the circulation by excreting them in bile, where they travel through the gut to be eliminated in faeces.”
“Cell structures eventually settled around the format we see now, a largely aqueous cytoplasm bounded by a predominantly lipophilic protective membrane. Although the membrane does prevent entry and exit of many potential toxins, it is no barrier to other lipophilic molecules. If these molecules are highly lipophilic, they will passively diffuse into and become trapped in the membrane. If they are slightly less lipophilic, they will pass through it into the organism. So aside from ‘ housekeeping ’ enzyme systems, some enzymatic protection would have been needed against invading molecules from the immediate environment. […] the majority of living organisms including ourselves now possess some form of effective biotransformational enzyme capability which can detoxify and eliminate most hydrocarbons and related molecules. This capability has been effectively ‘stolen’ from bacteria over millions of years. The main biotransformational protection against aromatic hydrocarbons is a series of enzymes so named as they absorb UV light at 450 nm when reduced and bound to carbon monoxide. These specialized enzymes were termed cytochrome P450 monooxygenases or sometimes oxido-reductases. They are often referred to as ‘CYPs’ or ‘P450s’. […] All the CYPs accomplish their functions using the same basic mechanism, but each enzyme is adapted to dismantle particular groups of chemical structures. It is a testament to millions of years of ‘ research and development ’ in the evolution of CYPs, that perhaps 50,000 or more man-made chemical entities enter the environment for the first time every year and the vast majority can be oxidized by at least one form of CYP. […] To date, nearly 60 human CYPs have been identified […] It is likely that hundreds more CYP-mediated endogenous functions remain to be discovered. […] CYPs belong to a group of enzymes which all have similar core structures and modes of operation. […] Their importance to us is underlined by their key role in more than 75 per cent of all drug biotransformations.”
I would add a note here that a very large proportion of this book is, perhaps unsurprisingly in view of the above, about those CYPs; how they work, what exactly it is that they do, which different kinds there are and what roles they play in the metabolism of specific drugs and chemical compounds, variation in gene expression across individuals and across populations in the context of specific CYPs and how such variation may relate to differences in drug metabolism, etc.
“Drugs often parallel endogenous molecules in their oil solubility, although many are considerably more lipophilic than these molecules. Generally, drugs, and xenobiotic compounds, have to be fairly oil soluble or they would not be absorbed from the GI tract. Once absorbed these molecules could change both the structure and function of living systems and their oil solubility makes these molecules rather ‘elusive’, in the sense that they can enter and leave cells according to their concentration and are temporarily beyond the control of the living system. This problem is compounded by the difficulty encountered by living systems in the removal of lipophilic molecules. […] even after the kidney removes them from blood by filtering them, the lipophilicity of drugs, toxins and endogenous steroids means that as soon as they enter the collecting tubules, they can immediately return to the tissue of the tubules, as this is more oil-rich than the aqueous urine. So the majority of lipophilic molecules can be filtered dozens of times and only low levels are actually excreted. In addition, very high lipophilicity molecules like some insecticides and fire retardants might never leave adipose tissue at all […] This means that for lipophilic agents:
*the more lipophilic they are, the more these agents are trapped in membranes, affecting fluidity and causing disruption at high levels;
* if they are hormones, they can exert an irreversible effect on tissues that is outside normal physiological control;
*if they are toxic, they can potentially damage endogenous structures;
* if they are drugs, they are also free to cause any pharmacological effect for a considerable period of time.”
“A sculptor was once asked how he would go about sculpting an elephant from a block of stone. His response was ‘knock off all the bits that did not look like an elephant’. Similarly, drug-metabolizing CYPs have one main imperative, to make molecules more water-soluble. Every aspect of their structure and function, their position in the liver, their initial selection of substrate, binding, substrate orientation and catalytic cycling, is intended to accomplish this deceptively simple aim.”
“The use of therapeutic drugs is a constant battle to pharmacologically influence a system that is actively undermining the drugs’ effects by removing them as fast as possible. The processes of oxidative and conjugative metabolism, in concert with efflux pump systems, act to clear a variety of chemicals from the body into the urine or faeces, in the most rapid and efficient manner. The systems that manage these processes also sense and detect increases in certain lipophilic substances and this boosts the metabolic capability to respond to the increased load.”
“The aim of drug therapy is to provide a stable, predictable pharmacological effect that can be adjusted to the needs of the individual patient for as long is deemed clinically necessary. The physician may start drug therapy at a dosage that is decided on the basis of previous clinical experience and standard recommendations. At some point, the dosage might be increased if the desired effects were not forthcoming, or reduced if side effects are intolerable to the patient. This adjustment of dosage can be much easier in drugs that have a directly measurable response, such as a change in clotting time. However, in some drugs, this adjustment process can take longer to achieve than others, as the pharmacological effect, once attained, is gradually lost over a period of days. The dosage must be escalated to regain the original effect, sometimes several times, until the patient is stable on the dosage. In some cases, after some weeks of taking the drug, the initial pharmacological effect seen in the first few days now requires up to eight times the initial dosage to reproduce. It thus takes a significant period of time to create a stable pharmacological effect on a constant dose. In the same patients, if another drug is added to the regimen, it may not have any effect at all. In other patients, sudden withdrawal of perhaps only one drug in a regimen might lead to a gradual but serious intensification of the other drug’s side effects.”
“acceleration of drug metabolism as a response to the presence of certain drugs is known as ‘enzyme induction’ and drugs which cause it are often referred to as ‘inducers’ of drug metabolism. The process can be defined as: ‘An adaptive increase in the metabolizing capacity of a tissue’; this means that a drug or chemical is capable of inducing an increase in the transcription and translation of specific CYP isoforms, which are often (although not always) the most efficient metabolizers of that chemical. […] A new drug is generally regarded as an inducer if it produces a change in drug clearance which is equal to or greater than 40 per cent of an established potent inducer, usually taken as rifampicin. […] inducers are usually (but not always) lipophilic, contain aromatic groups and consequently, if they were not oxidized, they would be very persistent in living systems. CYP enzymes have evolved to oxidize this very type of agent; indeed, an elaborate and very effective system has also evolved to modulate the degree of CYP oxidation of these agents, so it is clear that living systems regard inducers as a particular threat among lipophilic agents in general. The process of induction is dynamic and closely controlled. The adaptive increase is constantly matched to the level of exposure to the drug, from very minor almost undetectable increases in CYP protein synthesis, all the way to a maximum enzyme synthesis that leads to the clearance of grammes of a chemical per day. Once exposure to the drug or toxin ceases, the adaptive increase in metabolizing capacity will subside gradually to the previous low level, usually within a time period of a few days. This varies according to the individual and the drug. […] it is clear there is almost limitless capacity for variation in terms of the basic pre-set responsiveness of the system as well as its susceptibility to different inducers and groups of inducers. Indeed, induction in different patients has been observed to differ by more than 20-fold.”
This one I added mostly because I didn’t know this and I thought it was worth including it here because it would make it easier for me to remember later (i.e., not because I figured other people might find this interesting):
“CYP2E1 is very sensitive to diet, even becoming induced by high fat/low carbohydrate intakes. Surprisingly, starvation and diabetes also promote CYP2E1 functionality. Insulin levels fall during diet restriction, starvation and in diabetes and the formation of functional 2E1 is suppressed by insulin, so these conditions promote the increase of 2E1 metabolic capability. One of the consequences of diabetes and starvation is the major shift from glucose to fatty acid/tryglyceride oxidation, of which some of the by-products are small, hydrophilic and potentially toxic ‘ketone bodies’. These agents can cause a CNS intoxicating effect which is seen in diabetics who are very hypoglycaemic, they may appear ‘drunk’ and their breath will smell as if they had been drinking.”
A more general related point which may be of more interest to other people reading along here is that this is far from the only CYP which is sensitive to diet, and that diet-mediated effects may be very significant. I may go into this in more detail in a later post. Note that grapefruit is a major potentially problematic dietary component in many drug contexts:
“Although patients have been heroically consuming grapefruit juice for their health for decades, it took until the late 1980s before its effects on drug clearance were noted and several more years before it was realized that there could be a major problem with drug interactions […] The most noteworthy feature of the effect of grapefruit juice is its potency from a single ‘dose’ which coincides with a typical single breakfast intake of the juice, say around 200–300 ml. Studies with CYP3A substrates such as midazolam have shown that it can take up to three days before the effects wear off, which is consistent with the synthesis of new enzyme. […] there are a number of drugs that are subject to a very high gut wall component to their ‘first-pass’ metabolism […]; these include midazolam, terfenadine, lovastatin, simvastatin and astemizole. Their gut CYP clearance is so high that if the juice inhibits it, the concentration reaching the liver can increase six- or sevenfold. If the liver normally only extracts a relatively minor proportion of the parent agent, then plasma levels of such drugs increase dramatically towards toxicity […] the inhibitor effects of grapefruit juice in high first – pass drugs is particularly clinically relevant as it can occur after one exposure of the juice.”
It may sound funny, but there are two pages in this book about the effects of grapefruit juice, including a list of ‘Drugs that should not be taken with grapefruit juice’. Grapefruit is a well-known so-called mechanism-based inhibitor, and it may impact the metabolism of a lot of different drugs. It is far from the only known dietary component which may cause problems in a drug metabolism context – for example “cranberry juice has been known for some time as an inhibitor of warfarin metabolism”. On a general note the author remarks that: “There are hundreds of fruit preparations available that have been specifically marketed for their […] antioxidant capacities, such as purple grape, pomegranate, blueberry and acai juices. […] As they all contain large numbers of diverse phenolics and are pharmacologically active, they should be consumed with some caution during drug therapy.”
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