The role of citric acid in oral peptide and protein formulations: Relationship between calcium chelation and proteolysis inhibition

Søren Havelund Welling, Frantisek x Frantisek Hubálek, Jette Jacobsen, David J. Brayden, Ulrik L. x Ulrik L. Rahbek, Stephen T. Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The excipient citric acid (CA) has been reported to improve oral absorption of peptides by different mechanisms. The balance between its related properties of calcium chelation and permeation enhancement compared to a proteolysis inhibition was examined. A predictive model of CA’s calcium chelation activity was developed and verified experimentally using an ion-selective electrode. The effects of CA, its salt (citrate, Cit) and the established permeation enhancer, lauroyl carnitine chloride (LCC) were compared by measuring transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) and permeability of insulin and FD4 across Caco-2 monolayers and rat small intestinal mucosae mounted in Ussing chambers. Proteolytic degradation of insulin was determined in rat luminal extracts across a range of pH values in the presence of CA. CA’s capacity to chelate calcium decreased ∼10-fold for each pH unit moving from pH 6 to pH 3. CA was an inferior weak permeation enhancer compared to LCC in both in vitro models using physiological buffers. At pH 4.5 however, degradation of insulin in rat luminal extracts was significantly inhibited in the presence of 10 mM CA. The capacity of CA to chelate luminal calcium does not occur significantly at the acidic pH values where it effectively inhibits proteolysis, which is its dominant action in oral peptide formulations. On account of insulin’s low basal permeability, inclusion of alternative permeation enhancers is likely to be necessary to achieve sufficient oral bioavailability since this is a weak property of CA.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)544-551
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Oral peptide delivery
  • Citric acid
  • Proteolysis inhibition
  • Chelation
  • Intestinal drug permeability
  • Insulin


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