1. Phase I metabolism of drugs is accomplished by the concerted actions of a limited number of cytochrome P450 enzymes with wide but often overlapping substrate specificities. Although metabolism generally accelerates the clearance of drugs, reactive products may also be generated that cause toxic effects.
2. Because individuals vary in the range and levels of different P450 forms, it is useful to be able to determine the specific isoforms involved in a particular metabolic reaction, in order to estimate the extent of variation within a population in the pharmacokinetics of specific drugs. Such studies may also allow predictions to be made regarding the relative susceptibility of different individuals to possible adverse effects associated with drug treatment.
3. Human cytochrome P450 enzymes are now routinely expressed as recombinant proteins in many different systems, including mammalian cell culture, yeast, baculovirus and Escherichia coli. The latter system is particularly useful when large amounts of protein are required for biophysical studies, but can also be adapted to routine examination of pathways of drug metabolism and toxicology.
4. The present review provides an analysis of strategies used for enhancing cytochrome P450 expression in bacteria and for examining the activity of the recombinant proteins. The potential applications of recombinant P450 are discussed, with particular emphasis on investigation of the roles of cytochrome P450 forms in the metabolism and the toxicity of drugs.