In vitro biotransformation of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in different species. Part I: Microsomal degradation.
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are secondary metabolites of certain flowering plants. The ingestion of PAs may result in acute and chronic effects in man and livestock with hepatotoxicity, mutagenicity, and carcinogenicity being identified as predominant effects. Several hundred PAs sharing the diol pyrrolizidine as a core structure are formed by plants. Although many congeners may cause adverse effects, differences in the toxic potency have been detected in animal tests. It is generally accepted that PAs themselves are biologically and toxicologically inactive and require metabolic activation. Consequently, a strong relationship between activating metabolism and toxicity can be expected. Concerning PA susceptibility, marked differences between species were reported with a comparatively high susceptibility in horses, while goat and sheep seem to be almost resistant. Therefore, we investigated the in vitro degradation rate of four frequently occurring PAs by liver enzymes present in S9 fractions from human, pig, cow, horse, rat, rabbit, goat, and sheep liver. Unexpectedly, almost no metabolic degradation of any PA was observed for susceptible species such as human, pig, horse, or cow. If the formation of toxic metabolites represents a crucial bioactivation step, the found inverse conversion rates of PAs compared to the known susceptibility require further investigation.