Investigation of the metabolism of N, N-Dimethylformamide and its metabolites

  • Hilary J. Cross

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The industrial solvent N, N-dimethylformamide (DMF) causes liver damage in humans. The hepatotoxicity of N-alkylformamides seems to be linked to their metabolism to N-alkylcarbamic acid thioesters. To clarify the role of metabolism in DMF hepatotoxicity, the metabolic fate of DMF was investigated in rodents. DMF was rapidly metabolised and excreted in the urine as N-hydroxymethyl-N-methyl-formamide (HMMF), N-acetyl-S-(N-methylcarbamoyl) cysteine (AMCC) and a metabolite measured as formamide by GLC. At high doses (0.7 and 7.0mmo1/kg) a small proportion of the dose was excreted unchanged. AMCC, measured by GLC after derivatisation to ethyl N-methylcarbamate, was a minor metabolite. Only 5.2% of the dose (0.1mmo1/kg) in rats or 1.2% in mice was excreted as AMCC. The minor extent of this metabolic pathway in rodents might account for the marginal liver damage induced by DMF in these species. In a collaborative study, volunteers were shown to metabolise DMF to AMCC to a greater extent than rodents. Nearly 15% of the inhaled dose (0.049mmo1/kg) was excreted as AMCC. This result suggests that the metabolic pathway leading to AMCC is more important in humans than in rodents. Consequently the risk associated with exposure to DMF might be higher in humans than in rodents.
The metabolism of formamides to S-(N-alkylcarbamoyl) glutathione, the metabolic precursor of the thioester mercapturates, was studied using mouse, rat and human hepatic microsomes. The metabolism of NMF (10mM) to S-(N-methylcarbanoyl)glutathione (SMG) required the presence of GSH, NADPH and air. Generation of S-(N-methyl-carbamoyl)glutathione (SMG) was inhibited when incubations were conducted in an atmosphere of CO:air (1:1) or when SKF 525-A (3.0mM) was included in the incubations. Pre-treatment of mice with phenobarbitone (PB, 80mg/kg for 4 days) or beta-naphthoflavone (BNF, 50mg/kg for 4 days) failed to increase the microsomal formation of SMG from NMF. This result suggests that the oxidation of NMF is catalysed by a cytochrome P-450 isozyme which is unaffected by PB or BNF. Microsomal incubations with DMF (5 or 10mM) failed to generate measurable amounts of SMG although DMF was metabolised to HMMF. Incubations of microsomes with HMMF resulted in the generation of a small amount of SMG which was affected by inhibitors of microsomal enzymes in the same way as in the case of NMF. HMMF was metabolised to AMCC by rodents in vivo. This result suggests that HMMF is a major intermediate in the metabolic activation of DMF.
Date of AwardOct 1989
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAndreas Gescher (Supervisor)


  • Dimethylformamide
  • N-alkylformamides
  • hepatotoxicity
  • metabolic activation
  • mercapturic acids

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