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Biochem Pharmacol. 2013 Feb 1;85(3):439-47. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2012.11.026. Epub 2012 Dec 7.

Carboxylesterase-2 is a highly sensitive target of the antiobesity agent orlistat with profound implications in the activation of anticancer prodrugs.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Center for Pharmacogenomics and Molecular Therapy, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881, USA.


Orlistat has been the most used anti-obesity drug and the mechanism of its action is to reduce lipid absorption by inhibiting gastrointestinal lipases. These enzymes, like carboxylesterases (CESs), structurally belong to the α/β hydrolase fold superfamily. Lipases and CESs are functionally related as well. Some CESs (e.g., human CES1) have been shown to hydrolyze lipids. This study was designed to test the hypothesis that orlistat inhibits CESs with higher potency toward CES1 than CES2, a carboxylesterase with little lipase activity. Liver microsomes and recombinant CESs were tested for the inhibition of the hydrolysis of standard substrates and the anticancer prodrugs pentyl carbamate of p-aminobenzyl carbamate of doxazolidine (PPD) and irinotecan. Contrary to the hypothesis, orlistat at 1 nM inhibited CES2 activity by 75% but no inhibition on CES1, placing CES2 one of the most sensitive targets of orlistat. The inhibition varied among some CES2 polymorphic variants. Pretreatment with orlistat reduced the cell killing activity of PPD. Certain mouse but not rat CESs were also highly sensitive. CES2 is responsible for the hydrolysis of many common drugs and abundantly expressed in the gastrointestinal track and liver. Inhibition of this carboxylesterase probably presents a major source for altered therapeutic activity of these medicines if co-administered with orlistat. In addition, orlistat has been linked to various types of organ toxicities, and this study provides an alternative target potentially involved in these toxicological responses.

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