Toxicological sciences : an official journal of the Society of Toxicology

Biotransformation and kinetics of excretion of methyl-tert-butyl ether in rats and humans.

PMID 10496672


Methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) is widely used as an additive to gasoline to increase oxygen content and reduce tail pipe emission of pollutants. Therefore, widespread human exposure may occur. To contribute to the characterization of potential adverse effects of MTBE, its biotransformation was compared in humans and rats after inhalation exposure. Human volunteers (3 males and 3 females) and rats (5 each, males and females) were exposed to 4 (4.5 +/- 0.4) and 40 (38.7 +/- 3.2) ppm MTBE for 4 h in a dynamic exposure system. Urine samples from rats and humans were collected for 72 h in 6-h intervals, and blood samples were taken in regular intervals for 48 h. In urine, MTBE and the MTBE metabolites tertiary-butanol (t-butanol), 2-methyl-1,2-propane diol, and 2-hydroxyisobutyrate were quantified; MTBE and t-butanol were determined in blood samples. After the end of the exposure period, inhalation of 40 ppm MTBE resulted in blood concentrations of MTBE 5.9 +/- 1.8 microM in rats and 6.7 +/- 1.6 microM in humans. The MTBE blood concentrations after inhalation of 4 ppm MTBE were 2.3 +/- 1.0 in rats and 1.9 +/- 0.4 microM in humans. MTBE was rapidly cleared from blood with a half-life of 2.6 +/- 0.9 h in humans and 0.5 +/- 0.2 h in rats. The blood concentrations of t-butanol were 21.8 +/- 3.7 microM in humans and 36.7 +/- 10.8 microM in rats after 40 ppm MTBE, and 2.6 +/- 0.3 in humans and 2.9 +/- 0.5 in rats after 4 ppm MTBE. In humans, t-butanol was cleared from blood with a half-life of 5.3 +/- 2.1 h. In urine samples from controls and in samples collected from the volunteers and rats before the exposure, low concentrations of t-butanol, 2-methyl-1,2-propane diol and 2-hydroxyisobutyrate were present. In urine of both humans and rats exposed to MTBE, the concentrations of these compounds were significantly increased. 2-Hydroxyisobutyrate was recovered as a major excretory product in urine; t-butanol and 2-methyl-1,2-propane diol were minor metabolites. All metabolites of MTBE excreted with urine were rapidly eliminated in both species after the end of the MTBE exposure. Elimination half-lives for the different urinary metabolites of MTBE were between 7.8 and 17.0 h in humans and 2.9 to 5.0 h in rats. The obtained data indicate that MTBE biotransformation and excretion are similar in rats and humans, and MTBE and its metabolites are rapidly excreted in both species. Between 35 and 69% of the MTBE retained after the end of the exposure was recovered as metabolites in urine of both humans and rats.

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α-Hydroxyisobutyric acid, 99%
α-Hydroxyisobutyric acid, 98%