The interaction between rat and human liver cytochromes P450 with a series of lysergic acid derivatives and ergopeptide alkaloids was studied by difference visible spectroscopy. Ergopeptides, like bromocriptine, ergocryptine and dihydroergotamine, strongly interacted with rat liver microsomes with the appearance of a difference spectrum which is characteristic of their binding to a protein site close to the heme. The intensity of this spectrum was clearly dependent on the amounts of P450s 3A in the microsomes and was at its maximum in dexamethasone-treated rat microsomes. All the ergopeptides studied exhibited a high affinity for rat P450s 3A (Ks around 1 μM), although lysergic acid derivatives not bearing the tripeptide moiety failed to give significant interactions with these P450s. A cyclic azatripeptide exhibiting a structure very similar to that of the tripeptide moiety of ergopeptides also interacted with P450s 3A with appearance of an intense type I difference spectrum. Very similar results were observed with two allelic forms of human liver P450 3A4, P450 NF25 and P450 hPCN1, produced in yeast. In both cases all the ergopeptides studied showed high affinities for the P450s (Ks 0.6–2.2 μM) and an intense shift from the low-spin to the high-spin state upon substrate binding (60–100% spin shift). Lysergic acid derivatives not bearing the tripeptide group of ergopeptides also completely failed to interact with P450s 3A4.
Liver microsomes from rats pretreated with dexamethasone, a specific inducer of P450 3A, were found to be particularly active for the hydroxylation of bromocriptine, which occurs at the level of its tripeptide moiety. Human liver microsomes as well as P450 NF25 and P450 hPCN1 also exhibited a high activity for bromocriptine hydroxylation at this level.
These results show that ergopeptides exhibit a particularly high affinity for P450s of the 3A subfamily. The tripeptide moiety of ergopeptides is essential for their recognition by P450s 3A and binds at a site close to P450 heme, producing type-I difference spectra. Accordingly, at least one of the studied ergopeptides, bromocriptine, is hydroxylated by P450s 3A at the proline ring of the cyclopeptide moiety. As cyclosporine is known to be a good substrate of P450s 3A, these results suggest that P450s 3A may be especially prone in a general manner to recognize and oxidize peptides or pseudopeptides.