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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1999 Dec;291(3):1196-203.

Ethnic differences in N-glucuronidation of nicotine and cotinine.

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  • 1Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Medical Service, San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center, University of California, San Francisco, 94143-1220, USA.


We previously reported that the metabolism of cotinine, the proximate metabolite of nicotine, is significantly slower in black than in white cigarette smokers. To understand why the metabolism of nicotine and cotinine might differ between blacks and whites, we studied the pattern of nicotine metabolism in blacks and whites. One hundred eight healthy smokers (51 blacks and 57 whites), of similar age, gender distribution, and smoking history, received an i.v. infusion of deuterium-labeled nicotine and cotinine. The clearance of cotinine, the fractional conversion of nicotine to cotinine, and the metabolic clearance of nicotine to cotinine were significantly lower in blacks than in whites. Blacks excreted significantly less nicotine as nicotine-N-glucuronide and less cotinine as cotinine-N-glucuronide than whites, but there was no difference in the excretion of 3'-hydroxycotinine-O-glucuronide. Nicotine and cotinine glucuronidation appeared to be polymorphic, with evidence of slow and fast N-glucuronide formers among blacks but was unimodal with fast conjugators only among whites. Other findings of note included the demonstration of a significant correlation between the distribution volumes of nicotine and cotinine with lean body mass: there was a smaller distribution volume and a shorter half-life for cotinine in women than in men and a smaller volume of distribution of cotinine in blacks than in whites. We conclude that the metabolism of cotinine is slower in blacks than in whites because of both slower oxidative metabolism of nicotine to cotinine (presumably via cytochrome P-450 2A6) and slower N-glucuronidation. Ethnic differences in the metabolism of other drugs undergoing N-glucuronidation should be studied.

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