BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE Chalepensin is a pharmacologically active furanocoumarin compound found in rue, a medicinal herb. Here we have investigated the inhibitory effects of chalepensin on cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2A6 in vitro and in vivo. EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH Mechanism-based inhibition was studied in vitro using human liver microsomes and bacterial membranes expressing genetic variants of human CYP2A6. Effects in vivo were studied in C57BL/6J mice. CYP2A6 activity was assayed as coumarin 7-hydroxylation (CH) using HPLC and fluorescence measurements. Metabolism of chalepensin was assessed with liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS). KEY RESULTS CYP2A6.1, without pre-incubation with NADPH, was competitively inhibited by chalepensin. After pre-incubation with NADPH, inhibition by chalepensin was increased (IC 50 value decreased by 98%). This time-dependent inactivation (k inact 0.044 min -1; K I 2.64 μM) caused the loss of spectrally detectable P450 content and was diminished by known inhibitors of CYP2A6, pilocarpine or tranylcypromine, and by glutathione conjugation. LC/MS analysis of chalepensin metabolites suggested an unstable epoxide intermediate was formed, identified as the corresponding dihydrodiol, which was then conjugated with glutathione. Compared with the wild-type CYP2A6.1, the isoforms CYP2A6.7 and CYP2A6.10 were less inhibited. In mouse liver microsomes, pre-incubation enhanced inhibition of CH activity. Oral administration of chalepensin to mice reduced hepatic CH activity ex vivo. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS Chalepensin was a substrate and a mechanism-based inhibitor of human CYP2A6. Formation of an epoxide could be a key step in this inactivation. 'Poor metabolizers' carrying CYP2A6*7 or*10 may be less susceptible to inhibition by chalepensin. Given in vivo, chalepensin decreased CYP2A activity in mice.
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