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J Pharm Sci. 2003 Jul;92(7):1502-8.

Experimental demonstration of the unstirred water layer effect on drug transport in Caco-2 cells.

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Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kanazawa University, 13-1 Takara-machi, Kanazawa 920-0934, Japan.


We previously demonstrated that P-glycoprotein and MRP2 contribute to the secretory transport of grepafloxacin in the small intestine. Although inhibitors of these secretory transporters increased absorptive transport of grepafloxacin, secretory transport was not altered in Caco-2 cells, as determined by a conventional Transwell method. Because the value of the permeability coefficient of grepafloxacin is high, permeation through the unstirred water layer (UL) might be the rate-limiting step. To examine the possibility that the UL effect may mask the involvement of membrane transporters in the transport of drug with high permeability in Caco-2 cells, transport experiments were performed by agitating the experimental solution to decrease the thickness of the UL, and by lowering the temperature to decrease permeation via active transporters. Under these conditions, the UL effect was not rate limiting, and the inhibitory effects of transporter modulators were reflected in the apparent permeability as a decrease in secretory transport as well as an increase in absorptive transport. In conclusion, it was demonstrated that the UL can be the rate-limiting factor for transport of drugs with high membrane permeability in Caco-2 cells. When the UL affects the apparent permeability in an experimental apparatus in vitro, careful analysis is required to evaluate the contributions of transporters from the apparent permeability of drugs.

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