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Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2006 Dec;2(6):923-46.

Chemical toxicology: reactive intermediates and their role in pharmacology and toxicology.

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Wyeth Research, Drug Safety and Metabolism, Collegeville, PA 19426, USA.


Reactive intermediates formed during the metabolism of drugs have been investigated extensively over the past decades. Today, interest in reactive intermediates in drug discovery is focused on minimising bioactivation in hopes of reducing the risk of causing so-called idiosyncratic toxicity. These efforts are justified based on the 'hapten hypothesis', namely, that on binding to protein, reactive intermediates may elicit an immune response to the modified protein, leading to a cascade of events that ultimately manifests as a toxic outcome. However, the pharmacological action of certain drugs depends on reactive intermediates that modify critical amino acid residues of proteins, typically enzymes, thereby altering their activity. Thus, the notion that reactive intermediates are inherently dangerous is unjustified. When a reactive intermediate is necessary for the desired pharmacological effect of a drug, the selectivity it displays towards the target protein is crucial, as off-target binding may produce unwanted toxicities. On the other hand, reactive intermediates may play no role in toxicity. This review provides a balanced perspective, primarily focusing on the proposed role of reactive intermediates in drug toxicity, while also highlighting examples in which they are involved in causing the desired pharmacology. It is hoped that this knowledge can help scientists involved in drug discovery and development in their challenging task of producing safe and effective drugs.

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