Regulation of cytochrome P450 gene transcription by phenobarbital.

B. Kemper

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The ability of phenobarbital to induce levels of drug metabolism in mammals has been known for over 40 years. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying increased expression of the genes of the key enzyme in drug metabolism, cytochrome P450, have not been elucidated, primarily because in vitro model systems in which the induction could be studied were not available. Transfected primary cultured hepatocytes, transfection of liver in situ, and transgenic mice now provide suitable models for phenobarbital induction. In this review, progress toward understanding the mechanism of phenobarbital induction of gene expression is discussed with an emphasis on the mammalian genes, CYP2B1, CYP2B2, and Cyp2b10, which are most highly inducible by phenobarbital. Barbiturate induction of P450s in Bacillus megaterium, which is the system best understood, and its relevance to mammalian mechanisms of induction are also discussed. In B. megaterium, the binding of a repressor to several motifs is reversed by direct effects of barbiturates and by induction of positively acting factors. One of the repressor binding sites, the barbie box, is present in many mammalian phenobarbital-inducible genes, including the promimal promoter regions of CYP2B1, CYP2B2, and Cyp2B10. In the mammalian P450 genes, evidence has been proposed for phenobarbital-regulated elements both in the proximal promoter region and in a distal enhancer region. The role of the proximal region is controversial. A positively acting element that overlaps the barbie box sequence and a negative element have been proposed to mediate induction of CYP2B1/2, based primarily on protein binding and cell-free transcription assays. In contrast, other investigators have not found differences in phenobarbital-dependent protein binding in the proximal promoter region nor mediation of phenobarbital induction by this region. A distal gene fragment, at about -2000 kb in CYP2B1, CYP2B2, and Cyp2b10, has been shown to be a phenobarbital-responsive enhancer independent of proximal promoter elements. This fragment contains several binding sites for proteins and several functional elements, including an NF-1 site, and, therefore, has been designated as a phenobarbital-responsive unit. Possible models are presented in which phenobarbital treatment induces altered chromatin structure, which allows the binding of positively acting factors, or activates factors already bound, to the distal enhancer and the proximal promoter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-64
Number of pages40
JournalProgress in nucleic acid research and molecular biology
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology


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