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Drug Metab Dispos. 1997 Nov;25(11):1318-24.

Synthesis and reactivity of coumarin 3,4-epoxide.

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The Research Institute for Fragrance Materials.


Coumarin is used widely as a fragrance constituent and is administered clinically in the treatment of certain lymphedemas and malignancies. Although toxicity occurs only rarely in humans treated clinically with high-dose coumarin, it is well established that coumarin is hepatotoxic in the rat. This species difference in susceptibility to toxicity reflects the disparate metabolic processes occurring in humans and rodents. In humans, coumarin is converted extensively via cytochrome P450 2A6 to the nontoxic 7-hydroxycoumarin metabolite. In contrast, coumarin 3,4-epoxidation is thought to predominate in rodent species, resulting in the formation of several potentially toxic metabolites. Coumarin epoxide is thought to be highly unstable and has not been isolated synthetically or as a microsomal product. To address this issue, coumarin 3,4-epoxide was synthesized, and its stability and fate have been determined. Coumarin 3,4-epoxide was prepared by reacting coumarin with dimethyldioxirane. The epoxide was stable in organic solvents and survived conditions required for analysis by gas chromotography. Its structure was confirmed via 1H-NMR and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry-infrared spectroscopy (GC-MS-IR). In contrast, coumarin 3,4-epoxide was unstable in aqueous solution, converting within 20 sec to a ring-opened compound. Using GC-MS-IR analysis, the single coumarin 3,4-epoxide product was identified as o-hydroxyphenylacetaldehyde (o-HPA). Although other investigators have suggested that 3-hydroxycoumarin is an intermediate in o-HPA formation from coumarin 3,4-epoxide, we have demonstrated that 3-hydroxycoumarin, incubated in an aqueous system or with liver microsomal proteins, does not form o-HPA. Thus, the results of the present work establish that coumarin 3,4-epoxide can be synthesized and that o-HPA, which has previously been shown to be a prominent coumarin metabolite in rat liver microsomal incubations, is formed directly from coumarin 3,4-epoxide. These results suggest that both coumarin 3,4-epoxide and o-HPA may contribute to the hepatotoxicity of coumarin.

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