The transporter-mediated cellular uptake and efflux of pharmaceutical drugs and biotechnology products: How and why phospholipid bilayer transport is negligible in real biomembranes

Douglas B. Kell*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Over the years, my colleagues and I have come to realise that the likelihood of pharmaceutical drugs being able to diffuse through whatever unhindered phospholipid bilayer may exist in intact biological membranes in vivo is vanishingly low. This is because (i) most real biomembranes are mostly protein, not lipid, (ii) unlike purely lipid bilayers that can form transient aqueous chan-nels, the high concentrations of proteins serve to stop such activity, (iii) natural evolution long ago selected against transport methods that just let any undesirable products enter a cell, (iv) transporters have now been identified for all kinds of molecules (even water) that were once thought not to require them, (v) many experiments show a massive variation in the uptake of drugs between different cells, tissues, and organisms, that cannot be explained if lipid bilayer transport is significant or if efflux were the only differentiator, and (vi) many experiments that manipulate the expression level of individual transporters as an independent variable demonstrate their role in drug and nutrient uptake (including in cytotoxicity or adverse drug reactions). This makes such transporters valuable both as a means of targeting drugs (not least anti-infectives) to selected cells or tissues and also as drug targets. The same considerations apply to the exploitation of substrate uptake and product efflux transporters in biotechnology. We are also beginning to recognise that transporters are more promiscuous, and antiporter activity is much more widespread, than had been realised, and that such processes are adaptive (i.e., were selected by natural evolution). The purpose of the present review is to summarise the above, and to rehearse and update readers on recent developments. These developments lead us to retain and indeed to strengthen our contention that for trans-membrane pharmaceutical drug transport “phospholipid bilayer transport is negligible”.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5629
JournalMolecules
Volume26
Issue number18
Number of pages40
ISSN1420-3049
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: DBK thanks the BBSRC (grant BB/R014426/1) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation (Grant agreement No. NNF20CC0035580) for financial support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Keywords

  • ADME
  • Biotechnology
  • DMPK
  • Drugs
  • Energy coupling
  • Membrane transport
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Transporter engineering

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