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Curr Drug Metab. 2019;20(2):130-137. doi: 10.2174/1389200219666180330124050.

Potential Pharmacokinetic Herb-Drug Interactions: Have we Overlooked the Importance of Human Carboxylesterases 1 and 2?

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Department of Pharmacy, Children's Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, China.
College of Food Science and Engineering, Jinzhou Medical University, Jinzhou, China.
Department of Pharmacology, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN, United States.



Herbal products have grown steadily across the globe and have increasingly been incorporated into western medicine for healthcare aims, thereby causing potential pharmacokinetic Herb-drug Interactions (HDIs) through the inhibition or induction of drug-metabolizing enzymes and transporters. Human Carboxylesterases 1 (CES1) and 2 (CES2) metabolize endogenous and exogenous chemicals including many important therapeutic medications. The growing number of CES substrate drugs also underscores the importance of the enzymes. Herein, we summarized those potential inhibitors and inducers coming from herbal constituents toward CES1 and CES2. We also reviewed the reported HDI studies focusing on herbal products and therapeutic agents metabolized by CES1 or CES2.


We searched in PubMed for manuscript published in English after Jan 1, 2000 combining terms "carboxylesterase 1", "carboxylesterase 2", "inhibitor", "inducer", "herb-drug interaction", "inhibitory", and "herbal supplement". We also searched specific websites including FDA and EMA. The data of screened papers were analyzed and summarized.


The results showed that more than 50 natural inhibitors of CES1 or CES2, including phenolic chemicals, triterpenoids, and tanshinones were found from herbs, whereas only few inducers of CES1 and CES2 were reported. Systemic exposure to some commonly used drugs including oseltamivir, irinotecan, and clopidogrel were changed when they were co-administered with herb products such as goldenseal, black cohosh, ginger, St. John's Wort, curcumin, and some Chinese compound formula in animals.


Nonclinical and clinical studies on HDIs are warranted in the future to provide safety information toward better clinical outcomes for the combination of herbal products and conventional drugs.


CES1; CES2; Carboxylesterase (CES); herb-drug interactions; herbal components; pharmacokinetics.

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