Nitroreduction: A Critical Metabolic Pathway for Drugs, Environmental Pollutants, and Explosives

Trevor M. Penning, Anthony L. Su, Karam El-Bayoumy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Nitro group containing xenobiotics include drugs, cancer chemotherapeutic agents, carcinogens (e.g., nitroarenes and aristolochic acid) and explosives. The nitro group undergoes a six-electron reduction to form sequentially the nitroso-, N-hydroxylamino- and amino-functional groups. These reactions are catalyzed by nitroreductases which, rather than being enzymes with this sole function, are enzymes hijacked for their propensity to donate electrons to the nitro group either one at a time via a radical mechanism or two at time via the equivalent of a hydride transfer. These enzymes include: NADPH-dependent flavoenzymes (NADPH: P450 oxidoreductase, NAD(P)H-quinone oxidoreductase), P450 enzymes, oxidases (aldehyde oxidase, xanthine oxidase) and aldo-keto reductases. The hydroxylamino group once formed can undergo conjugation reactions with acetate or sulfate catalyzed by N-acetyltransferases or sulfotransferases, respectively, leading to the formation of intermediates containing a good leaving group which in turn can generate a nitrenium or carbenium ion for covalent DNA adduct formation. The intermediates in the reduction sequence are also prone to oxidation and produce reactive oxygen species. As a consequence, many nitro-containing xenobiotics can be genotoxic either by forming stable covalent adducts or by oxidatively damaging DNA. This review will focus on the general chemistry of nitroreduction, the enzymes responsible, the reduction of xenobiotic substrates, the regulation of nitroreductases, the ability of nitrocompounds to form DNA adducts and act as mutagens as well as some future directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1747-1765
Number of pages19
JournalChemical research in toxicology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 17 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology


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