Eric Johnson, PhD

Department of Molecular Medicine


Research Focus

Cytochrome P450: Structure, Function and Regulation

The focus of our research is to understand how the structural diversity and regulation of human cytochrome P450 (CYP) monooxygenases contribute to an individual's ability to avoid the adverse effects of environmental chemicals and affect the metabolism and disposition of therapeutic drugs.

Cytochrome P450 monooxygenases oxidize a large variety of nutritive and non-nutritive lipids including man-made xenobiotics to reduce toxicity and increase their elimination. The expression of individual P450 enzymes is controlled by a variety of hormonal and metabolic inputs as well as by xenobiotics. Our current studies focus on the regulation and function of human CYP4A11 and CYP4F2, which oxidize both endobiotic and xenobiotic substrates, and contribute to lipid homeostasis, protection from xenobiotics, and signal transduction pathways regulating hemodynamics and inflammation. Although the regulation of CYP4 gene expression has been characterized in various non-human species, significant differences are evident between mammalian species in the number of CYP4 genes and the pathways that govern their expression. Our studies are uncovering mechanisms of human CYP4F2 gene regulation in response to xenobiotics, hormones and nutritional status. Additionally, we are using human CYP4A11 and CYP4F2 transgenes in Cyp4a10 null mice to gauge the effect of expression of each transgene on the susceptibility of the Cyp4a10 null mice to develop salt-sensitive hypertension and to relate these changes to differences in renal and hepatic lipid metabolism, inflammation and gene expression. The underlying mechanisms are likely to contribute to the reported association of genetic variation of the human CYP4A11 and CYP4F2 genes with risks for hypertension and related vascular disorders. These mechanisms are likely to reflect the roles of Cyp4a10, CYP4A11 and CYP4F2 in lipid metabolism with consequent effects on gene regulation that contribute to salt dependent hypertension in mice.

Cytochrome P450 monooxygenases often determine the clearance of candidate drugs limiting their efficacy. These enzymes can also be sources for off-target toxicity. A long term objective is to understand the structural determinants of substrate recognition by P450 enzymes. Collectively and individually the human drug metabolizing P450s can metabolize structurally diverse range of substrates, and this is likely to reflect in part the flexibility of each enzyme and structural adaptations for substrate binding. This underscores the necessity to determine multiple structures of individual enzymes in complex with structurally dissimilar drugs to understand the contribution of conformational flexibility to drug binding. Specific changes in the active site architectures of P450s induced by interaction with chemically diverse substrates, inhibitors and activators, alone or in combination, will be identified to delineate the range of adaptive changes that can occur for each enzyme. Additionally, the active site architectures additional P450s will be determined to identify structural characteristics that control the important functional contribution made by these enzymes to drug metabolism and the clearance of xenobiotics and excess endogenous compounds. Collectively, these studies will address significant gaps in our knowledge of P450 structure as it relates to function, and provide important information and tools for the prediction of drug metabolism. These studies will also provide new information to guide drug design in order to avoid limitations of efficacy and undesirable off-target effects resulting from cytochrome P450 mediated drug metabolism. This will benefit a wide range of therapeutic areas targeted for drug development.


Ph.D. (Chemistry), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1972

Professional Experience

2005-2017 Professor, Molecular and Experimental Medicine (MEM), Scripps Research

Awards & Professional Activities

The Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism, American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Ronald W. Estabrook, Scientific Achievement Award, International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics
Fellow, American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics

Editorial Boards: Journal of Biological Chemistry, Molecular Pharmacology

Selected References

All Publications

Hsu, M. H., and Johnson, E. F. Active-site differences between substrate-free and ritonavir-bound cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A5 reveal plasticity differences between CYP3A5 and CYP3A4. J. Biol. Chem. 294, 8015-8022 (2019). PMCID: PMC6527174.

Jennings GK, Hsu MH, Shock LS, Johnson EF, Hackett JC. Non-covalent interactions dominate dynamic heme distortion in cytochrome P450 4B1. J Biol Chem. (2018). PMCID: PMC6065186.

Hsu MH, Savas U, Johnson EF. The X-Ray Crystal Structure of the Human Mono-Oxygenase Cytochrome P450 3A5-Ritonavir Complex Reveals Active Site Differences between P450s 3A4 and 3A5. Mol Pharmacol. 93:14-24 (2018), PMCID: PMC5708090.

Liu R, Lyu X, Batt SM, Hsu MH, Harbut MB, Vilcheze C, Cheng B, Ajayi K, Yang B, Yang Y, Guo H, Lin C, Gan F, Wang C, Franzblau SG, Jacobs WR, Jr., Besra GS, Johnson EF, Petrassi M, Chatterjee AK, Futterer K, Wang F. Determinants of the Inhibition of DprE1 and CYP2C9 by Antitubercular Thiophenes. Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 56:13011-5 (2017), PMCID: PMC5659129.

Albertolle ME, Kim D, Nagy LD, Yun CH, Pozzi A, Savas U, Johnson EF, Guengerich FP. Heme-thiolate sulfenylation of human cytochrome P450 4A11 functions as a redox switch for catalytic inhibition. J Biol Chem. 292:11230-42, (2017), PMCID: PMC5500791.

Hsu MH, Baer BR, Rettie AE, Johnson EF. The Crystal Structure of Cytochrome P450 4B1 (CYP4B1) Monooxygenase Complexed with Octane Discloses Several StructuralAdaptations for omega-Hydroxylation. J Biol Chem. 292:5610-21 (2017), PMCID: PMC5708090.

Butler CR, Ogilvie K, Martinez-Alsina L, Barreiro G, Beck EM, Nolan CE, Atchison K, Benvenuti E, Buzon L, Doran S, Gonzales C, Helal CJ, Hou X, Hsu MH, Johnson EF, Lapham K, Lanyon L, Parris K, O'Neill BT, Riddell D, Robshaw A, Vajdos F, Brodney MA. Aminomethyl-Derived Beta Secretase (BACE1) Inhibitors: Engaging Gly230 without an Anilide Functionality. J Med Chem. 60:386-402 (2017). Epub 2016/12/21. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b01451, PMCID: PMC5461923.

Savas U, Wei S, Hsu M.H., Falck J.R., Guengerich F.P., Capdevila J.H., Johnson E.F. 20-Hydroxyeicosatetraenoic Acid (HETE) Dependent Hypertension in Human Cytochrome P450 (CYP) 4A11 Transgenic Mice: Normalization of Blood Pressure by Sodium Restriction, Hydrochlorothiazide, or Blockade of the Type 1 Angiotensin II Receptor. J Biol Chem. 291:16904-19 (2016), PMCID: PMC4974402.

Brodney, M.A., Beck, E.M., Butler, C.R., Barreiro, G., Johnson, E.F., Riddell, D., Parris, K., Nolan, C.E., Fan, Y., Atchison, K., Gonzales, C., Robshaw, A.E., Doran, S.D., Bundesmann, M.W., Buzon, L., Dutra, J., Henegar, K., LaChapelle, E., Hou, X., Rogers, B.N., Pandit, J., Lira, R., Martinez-Alsina, L., Mikochik, P., Murray, J.C., Ogilvie, K., Price, L., Sakya, S.M., Yu, A., Zhang, Y., and O'Neill, B.T. Utilizing structures of CYP2D6 and BACE1 complexes to reduce risk of drug-drug interactions with a novel series of centrally efficacious BACE1 inhibitors. J. Med. Chem. 58:3223-2352 (2015), PMCID: PMC4415909.

Wang, A., Zhang, Q., Stout, C.D., and Johnson, E.F. Contributions of ionic interactions and protein dynamics to cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) substrate and inhibitor binding. J.Biol.Chem. 290: 5092-5104 (2015), PMCID: PMC4335244.