Drug Metabolism by the Human Fetus

M. R. Juchau, S. T. Chao, C. J. Omiecinski

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A review of the literature that pertains to drug biotransformation in human fetal tissues reveals that, in spite of several publications in this comparatively new area of research, only very limited definitive information is currently available. The large majority of the studies performed have dealt with the cytochrome P-450-dependent microsomal mono-oxygenase systems and for several of the common drug metabolising reactions, very little or no data are available at this time. Some of the more important data that have emerged include observations that important bioactivation reactions can be demonstrated in human fetal tissues obtained during the period of late embryogenesis (high susceptibility to chemical dysmorphogenesis) and that the human fetal adrenal gland possesses considerable capacity to catalyse several important oxidation-reduction reactions. From the data available to date, it would appear that, in most instances, the biotransformation of drugs in the human embryo and fetus would not affect maternal plasma concentrations significantly. From the viewpoint of parameters of the pharmacokinetics of parent drug (or other xenobiotic) substrates under steady-state conditions, human fetal drug metabolism probably is of little consequence in most cases, although exceptions may exist. Pharmacokinetic parameters observed after isolated exposure, however, are very likely to be affected, perhaps markedly, in some instances. The demonstrated capacity of human prenatal tissues and cells to generate reactive intermediary metabolites, including those that produce mutations, has attracted the greatest attention recently. This capacity may be associated with extremely important adverse reactions to drugs and other environmental chemicals. Such adverse responses include transplacental mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, dysmorphogenesis, and perhaps several other undesirable effects. Although far from conclusive, the data tend to suggest that humans and subhuman primates may be more vulnerable than the smaller common experimental animals to the toxic effects of foreign organic chemicals during prenatal life. These factors should be weighed whenever exposure of pregnant women to such agents (e.g. via drug administration) is contemplated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-339
Number of pages20
JournalClinical Pharmacokinetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1980

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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