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Hum Reprod. 1997 May;12(5):1073-9.

Targeted drug delivery in gynaecology: the first uterine pass effect.

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  • 11st Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Bologna, Italy.


The objective was to verify the hypothesis of a 'first uterine pass effect' or direct preferential vagina-to-uterus transport, suggested by the evidence of higher than expected uterine tissue concentrations after vaginal administration of progesterone; we used a human ex-vivo uterine perfusion model. A mixture of tritiated (3H) and unlabelled progesterone was applied to the cuff of vaginal tissue remaining attached to the cervix after hysterectomy. At the end of the perfusion period (up to 12 h), 3H and 14C radioactivity was measured in samples of uterine tissue. Tritiated water and [14C]dextran were tested to determine the extent of non-specific vagina-to-uterus transport (leaks). Finally, sections of uterine tissue exposed only to [3H]progesterone were prepared for autoradiography. By 4-5 h after application progesterone had diffused to the entire uterus and had reached a steady state; 4 h after application, progesterone concentrations reached 185 +/- 155 and 254 +/- 305 ng/100 mg of endometrial and myometrial tissue respectively. Endometrial extraction of progesterone was higher when the experiment was performed on uteri obtained during the luteal phase (280 +/- 156 ng/100 mg of endometrial tissue) than those removed during the proliferative phase of the menstrual cycle (74 +/- 28 ng/100 mg of endometrial tissue). These data demonstrate that a 'first uterine pass effect' occurs when drugs are delivered vaginally, thereby providing an explanation for the unexpectedly high uterine concentrations relative to the low serum concentration observed after vaginal administration. Hence, the vaginal route permits targeted drug delivery to the uterus, thereby maximizing the desired effects while minimizing the potential for adverse systemic effects.

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