Transporter-mediated permeation of drugs across the blood-brain barrier

J Pharm Sci. 2000 Nov;89(11):1371-88. doi: 10.1002/1520-6017(200011)89:11<1371::aid-jps1>;2-d.


Drug distribution into the brain is strictly regulated by the presence of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) that is formed by brain capillary endothelial cells. Since the endothelial cells are connected to each other by tight junctions and lack pores and/or fenestrations, compounds must cross the membranes of the cells to enter the brain from the bloodstream. Therefore, hydrophilic compounds cannot cross the barrier in the absence of specific mechanisms such as membrane transporters or endocytosis. So, for efficient supply of hydrophilic nutrients, the BBB is equipped with membrane transport systems and some of those transporter proteins have been shown to accept drug molecules and transport them into brain. In the present review, we describe mainly the transporters that are involved in drug transfer across the BBB and have been molecularly identified. The transport systems described include transporters for amino acids, monocarboxylic acids, organic cations, hexoses, nucleosides, and peptides. Most of these transporters function in the direction of influx from blood to brain; the presence of efflux transporters from brain to blood has also been demonstrated, including P-glycoprotein, MRPs, and other unknown transporters. These efflux transporters seem to be functional for detoxication and/or prevention of nonessential compounds from entering the brain. Various drugs are transported out of the brain via such efflux transporters, resulting in the decrease of CNS side effects for drugs that have pharmacological targets in peripheral tissues or in the reduction of efficacy in CNS because of the lower delivery by efflux transport. To identify the transporters functional at the BBB and to examine the possible involvement of them in drug transports by molecular and physiological approaches will provide a rational basis for controlling drug distribution to the brain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology*
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Fluoroquinolones*
  • Humans
  • Ion Pumps / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Monosaccharide Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Nucleoside Transport Proteins
  • Quinolones / pharmacokinetics


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Ion Pumps
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Monosaccharide Transport Proteins
  • Nucleoside Transport Proteins
  • Quinolones
  • olamufloxacin