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Clin Pharmacokinet. 1999 May;36(5):353-73.

Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of the nitroimidazole antimicrobials.

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University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy, USA.


Metronidazole, the prototype nitroimidazole antimicrobial, was originally introduced to treat Trichomonas vaginalis, but is now used for the treatment of anaerobic and protozoal infections. The nitroimidazoles are bactericidal through toxic metabolites which cause DNA strand breakage. Resistance, both clinical and microbiological, has been described only rarely. Metronidazole given orally is absorbed almost completely, with bioavailability > 90% for tablets; absorption is unaffected by infection. Rectal and intravaginal absorption are 67 to 82%, and 20 to 56%, of the dose, respectively. Metronidazole is distributed widely and has low protein binding (< 20%). The volume of distribution at steady state in adults is 0.51 to 1.1 L/kg. Metronidazole reaches 60 to 100% of plasma concentrations in most tissues studied, including the central nervous system, but does not reach high concentrations in placental tissue. Metronidazole is extensively metabolised by the liver to 5 metabolites. The hydroxy metabolite has biological activity of 30 to 65% and a longer elimination half-life than the parent compound. The majority of metronidazole and its metabolites are excreted in urine and faeces, with less than 12% excreted unchanged in urine. The pharmacokinetics of metronidazole are unaffected by acute or chronic renal failure, haemodialysis, continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis, age, pregnancy or enteric disease. Renal dysfunction reduces the elimination of metronidazole metabolites; however, no toxicity has been documented and dosage alterations are unnecessary. Liver disease leads to a decreased clearance of metronidazole and dosage reduction is recommended. Recent pharmacodynamic studies of metronidazole have demonstrated activity for 12 to 24 hours after administration of metronidazole 1 g. The post-antibiotic effect of metronidazole extends beyond 3 hours after the concentration falls below the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC). The concentration-dependent bactericidal activity, prolonged half-life and sustained activity in plasma support the clinical evaluation of higher doses of metronidazole given less frequently. Metronidazole-containing regimens for Helicobacter pylori in combination with proton pump inhibitors demonstrate higher success rates than antimicrobial regimens alone. The pharmacokinetics of metronidazole in gastric fluid appear contradictory to these results, since omeprazole reduces peak drug concentration and area under the concentration-time curve for metronidazole and its hydroxy metabolite; however, concentrations remain above the MIC. Other members of this class include tinidazole, ornidazole and secnidazole. They are also well absorbed and distributed after oral administration. Their only distinguishing features are prolonged half-lives compared with metronidazole. The choice of nitroimidazole may be influenced by the longer administration intervals possible with other members of this class; however, metronidazole remains the predominant antimicrobial for anaerobic and protozoal infections.

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