Nitrofurantoin, a commonly used urinary tract antiseptic, has been associated with idiosyncratic pulmonary and hepatic damage. We have used human lymphocytes in vitro to explore the biochemical basis of susceptibility to nitrofurantoin toxicity. The drug itself did not damage the cells as assessed by trypan blue dye exclusion. In the presence of a mouse hepatic microsomal drug-activating system, however, nitrofurantoin metabolites produced dose dependent toxicity to the lymphocytes. Inhibition of the enzyme epoxide hydrolase did not enhance toxicity; the metabolite thus does not appear to be a furan epoxide. Binding of reactive metabolites to cell macromolecules may lead directly to cell death, or in vivo, by acting as haptens to secondary immunologic responses. The metabolite caused a dose-dependent depletion of lymphocyte glutathione content. Cells from a patient with glutathione synthetase deficiency showed markedly enhanced nitrofurantoin toxicity. The findings suggest that glutathione plays a major role in protecting cells from nitrofurantoin-induced damage, and that studies of lymphocyte toxicity and glutathione metabolism in patients experiencing idiosyncratic reactions to nitrofurantoin may lead to elucidation of the biochemical and genetic basis of drug susceptibility.
S P Spielberg, G B Gordon