Uli Zanger began his research career with Urs A. Meyer at the Biocenter of the University of Basel, Switzerland, where he performed his PhD studies in a team that worked out the basis for several genetic polymorphisms in human drug
metabolism. During his PhD work, he made several discoveries that helped characterize the polymorphic P450 enzyme debrisoquine 4-hydroxylase biochemically and by new assays (e.g. Zanger et al., 1988, Biochemistry 27:5447-54). He also
developed monoclonal antibodies and discovered that anti-LKM1 autoantibodies, which circulate in autoimmune hepatitis type II, are specifically directed against and inhibit CYP2D6 (Zanger et al., 1988, Proc Natl Acad Sci. USA 85:8256-60).
In the following years, Uli Zanger received postdoctoral training in molecular biology with Michael R. Waterman at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX, USA, where he investigated transcriptional regulation of steroidogenic
P450s (Zanger et al., 1991, J Biol Chem. 266:1141720).
In 1994, Uli Zanger joined the Dr. Margarete Fischer-Bosch Institute of Clinical Pharmacology (IKP) in Stuttgart. There, he established his own research group and worked on various aspects of drug metabolism, pharmacogenetics/genomics,
and clinical pharmacology over the next 25 years.
In continuation of his interest in CYP2D6, he performed systematic sequencing studies and discovered a novel variant that turned out to be the second most frequent functionally impaired CYP2D6 allele among subjects of Caucasian ethnicity
(frequency ~10-15%). In a number of publications he and his group showed that this allele differs from the common functionally normal *2 allele by a single intronic variant (2988G>A) that is causally responsible for decreased protein
expression and activity most likely via aberrant splicing. This variant allows to identify individuals at increased risk of adverse drug effects for CYP2D6 drug substrates and helps to better understand genotype-phenotype variability.
The variant is an essential component of current pharmacogenetic testing procedures. Relevant papers include Raimundo et al., Pharmacogenetics 10:577-81 (2000); Zanger et al., Pharmacogenetics 11:573-85 (2001); Raimundo et al., Clin
Pharmacol Ther 76 :128-38 (2004) ; Toscano et al., Pharmacogenet Genomics 16 :756 (2006). Several other papers during this time described further CYP2D6 variants, genotyping assays, nomenclature, as well as substrates. Turning his
interest to other cytochromes P450, Uli Zanger and his group were the first to systematically unravel genetic polymorphisms of CYP2B6, the orthologous human gene of the wellknown phenobarbital-inducible CYP2B genes of rodents. While
so far largely neglected as a drug metabolizing enzyme in humans, CYP2B6 turned out to be one of the most polymorphic human P450 genes. Numerous common and rare amino acid variants, promoter and intron polymorphisms are organized in
complex haplotypes that influence liver expression, enzyme activity and substrate selectivity. The CYP2B6 genetic polymorphism was later shown by him and numerous other groups worldwide to be especially important for anti-HIV drug
treatment (e.g., efavirenz, nevirapine). Relevant publications include Lang et al., Pharmacogenetics 11:399-415 (2001); Klein et al., Pharmacogenet Genomics 15:861-73 (2005); Zukunft et al., Mol Pharmacol 67:1772-82 (2005); Rotger
et al., Clin Pharmacol Ther 81:557-66 (2007); Hofmann et al., J Pharmacol Exp Ther 325:284-92 (2008). Numerous additional papers describe CYP2B6 biochemically, e.g. by irreversible inhibition (Richter et al., J Pharmacol Ther 308:189-97(2004))
and induction (Saussele et al., Clin Pharmacol Ther 82:26574(2007)).
The Zanger group also studied genetic influences on other P450s including CYP3A4. As numerous efforts by him and others failed to reveal meaningful genetic polymorphisms in the CYP3A locus that influence CYP3A4 (with the exception of CYP3A5),
Uli’s group turned their interest on the possibility of trans-acting polymorphisms. In a systematic candidate gene approach they identified several new influential genes for CYP3A4 including the nuclear receptor PPARα. They showed
that a PPARα polymorphism influenced CYP3A4 expression in human liver as well as in vivo. Subsequent mechanistic studies have shown that PPARα directly interacts with cis-regulatory elements of the CYP3A4 gene promoter region
to increase transcription and they showed that PPARα ligands such as fibrates and phospholipids are able to induce CYP3A4 in primary human hepatocytes. Remarkably, in contrast to many inducers of CYP3A4 that activate transcription
via nuclear receptors PXR and CAR, the influence of PPARα ligands such as fibrates and phospholipids on CYP3A4 had not been investigated before. Relevant publications include Klein et al., Clin Pharmacol Ther 91:1044-52 (2012); Thomas
et al., Mol Pharmacol. 83:709-18 (2013); Kandel et al., Biochim Biophys Acta 1859:1218-27 (2016).
Although polymorphic genetic variation was certainly the major interest in Uli Zanger’s work, he also realized that it is equally important to look at other factors. One of his most important scientific contributions in this regard concerns
the influence of sex on cytochrome P450 variability. While sex has been known as a remarkable influential factor in rodents, the situation in humans was less clear yet of significant clinical interest. The question had been addressed
by other groups before with contradictory results due to methodological issues. It was Uli Zanger’s careful work with his established human liver cohort to show unequivocally that CYP3A4 is sex-dependently expressed in humans with
females showing up to 2-fold higher levels of transcript, protein and enzyme activity in their liver, independent of drug exposure. The finding has since been replicated by others and it explains well the general observation of higher
in vivo clearance rates for CYP3A4 drug substrates seen in female patients and volunteer study participants (Wolbold R et al., Hepatology 38:978-88 (2003)). A later follow-up work in collaboration with Dr. David Waxman (Boston)
revealed more than 1,200 genes with sex biased expression in human liver, including 40 drug metabolizing enzymes with female or male bias as well as many other genes with implications for polygenic dyslipdemia and coronary artery disease
(Zhang et al., PLoS One 6:e23506 (2011)).
More recently, Uli Zanger turned his interest on other nongenetic factors that influence drug metabolism and particularly on the mechanism of downregulation of drug metabolism in disease
states with inflammatory component, a phenomenon that has been investigated since a long time. Known mechanisms include primarily transcriptional processes but according to Uli Zanger’s most recent work, diverse microRNAs, e.g. miR-130b,
miR-155 and others, contribute to posttranscriptional regulation in inflammatory conditions. Recent papers include Rieger et al., Drug Metab Dispos 43:884-8 (2015); Kugler et al., Biochem Pharmacol. 171:113725 (2019).
In addition to these major research achievements, Uli Zanger contributed many additional findings, methodological developments as well as review articles and book chapters to the fields of drug metabolism, pharmacogenetics/genomics and
clinical pharmacology. He has trained more than 20 undergraduates, PhD students and postdocs and he collaborated scientifically with many groups in Germany, Europe and worldwide.
We have invited Dr. Zanger to lecture at the 24th North American ISSX Meeting to take place in Boston, Mass, USA from September 12 - 15, 2021. Additionally, Dr. Zanger will deliver a talk entitled, Cytochrome P450 pharmacogenetics: New Lessons about SNPs, Haplotypes, and in vitro Test Systems,
as part of the ISSX Webinar Series on Monday, October 5, 2020. Review the abstract and register to attend today.
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