The rate and extent of oral bioavailability versus the rate and extent of oral absorption: clarification and recommendation of terminology

J Pharmacokinet Pharmacodyn. 2001 Feb;28(1):3-6. doi: 10.1023/a:1011544501243.


In the literature, the meanings of the terms oral absorption and oral bioavailability of drugs vary greatly. Absorption has been considered to take place at the mucosal membrane of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It has also been defined as the process from the site of drug administration to the site of measurement. In the latter definition, the extent of oral absorption depends on the extent of first-pass elimination in the gut wall and liver even though a drug may be completely absorbed from the GI tract. Moreover, these two terms have also been used interchangeably. Inconsistency in the definition of these two terms has led to varying interpretations of these terms among students, researchers and laymen, and such an inconsistency seems undesirable. Apparently because of these inconsistencies, improper correlations between the Caco-2 permeability or intestinal permeability and the oral bioavailability of drugs subject to extensive first-pass effect may have occurred. It is suggested that absorption be defined as movement of drug across the outer mucosal membranes of the GI tract, while bioavailability be defined as availability of drug to the general circulation or site of pharmacological actions. Since transit times (this may range from about 1 min to several hours) across enterocytes, liver, lungs, and the peripheral venous sampling tissue are virtually unknown for all drugs, this factor alone would favor the use of "oral bioavailability rate" rather than "oral absorption rate" in all routine studies.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Biological Availability*
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Mouth Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Terminology as Topic*