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Abstract

Many drugs that are substrates of CYP3A4, the major human drug-metabolizing cytochrome P450 (CYP), show higher clearance in women than in men. Although this effect is believed to be related to drug metabolism, the underlying cause has not been elucidated. We investigated CYP3A4 in a large collection (n = 94) of well-characterized surgical liver samples and found 2-fold higher CYP3A4 levels in female compared with male samples (P < .0001) and a corresponding 50% increase in the CYP3A-dependent N-dealkylation of verapamil (P < .01). This expression difference was not due to preferential induction in women following higher drug exposure because it was even larger in a subgroup not previously exposed to drugs. Higher expression in women was also found for CYP3A4 messenger RNA (mRNA) transcripts, suggesting a pretranslational mechanism. Expression of the pregnane X receptor (PXR), which is crucially involved in CYP3A4 induction by xenobiotics, was strongly correlated to CYP3A4 at the mRNA level in all individuals as well as in the subgroup not exposed to drugs (r = 0.81; P < .0001), but no sex-dependent expression of PXR mRNA was found. The ABC transporter P-glycoprotein, which has been proposed to be implicated in the mechanism of sex-dependent drug clearance, was also not differentially expressed. The influence of drug treatment on expression was examined from patient drug histories, and strong induction of CYP3A4 by carbamazepine and St. John's wort was found. In conclusion, sex, in addition to PXR and drug exposure, is a major factor for CYP3A4 expression in humans, thus explaining many of the previous observations of sex-dependent drug clearance. (Hepatology 2003;38:978–988).