The formation of quinone methides (QMs) from either direct 2-electron oxidation of 2- or 4-alkylphenols, isomerization of oquinones, or elimination of a good leaving group could explain the cytotoxic/cytoprotective effects of several drugs, natural products, as well as endogenous compounds. For example, the antiretroviral drug nevirapine and the antidiabetic agent troglitazone both induce idiosyncratic hepatotoxicity through mechanisms involving quinone methide formation. The anesthetic phencyclidine induces psychological side effects potentially through quinone methide mediated covalent modification of crucial macromolecules in the brain. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) such as tamoxifen, toremifene, and raloxifene are metabolized to quinone methides which could potentially contribute to endometrial carcinogenic properties and/or induce detoxification enzymes and enhance the chemopreventive effects of these SERMs. Endogenous estrogens and/or estrogens present in estrogen replacement formulations are also metabolized to catechols and further oxidized to o-quinones which can isomerize to quinone methides. Both estrogen quinoids could cause DNA damage which could enhance hormone dependent cancer risk. Natural products such as the food and flavor agent eugenol can be directly oxidized to a quinone methide which may explain the toxic effects of this natural compound. Oral toxicities associated with chewing areca quid could be the result of exposure to hydroxychavicol through initial oxidation to an o-quinone which isomerizes to a p-quinone methide. Similar o-quinone to p-quinone methide isomerization reactions have been reported for the ubiquitous flavonoid quercetin which needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating risk-benefit assessments of these natural products. The resulting reaction of these quinone methides with proteins, DNA, and/or resulting modulation of gene expression may explain the toxic and/or beneficial effects of the parent compounds.
Keywords: Bioactivation, P450, quinone, quinone methide, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs).