Delivery of bioactive peptides and proteins across oral (buccal) mucosa

Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2001 Jun;2(2):175-86. doi: 10.2174/1389201013378734.


The identification of an increasing array of highly potent, endogenous peptide and protein factors termed cytokines, that can be efficiently synthesized using recombinant DNA technology, offers exciting new approaches for drug therapy. However, the physico-chemical and biological properties of these agents impose limitations in formulation and development of optimum drug delivery systems as well as on the routes of delivery. Oral mucosa, including the lining of the cheek (buccal mucosa), floor of mouth and underside of tongue (sublingual mucosa) and gingival mucosa, has received much attention in the last decade because it offers excellent accessibility, is not easily traumatized and avoids degradation of proteins and peptides that occurs as a result of oral administration, gastrointestinal absorption and first-pass hepatic metabolism. Peptide absorption occurs across oral mucosa by passive diffusion and it is unlikely that there is a carrier-mediated transport mechanism. The principal pathway is probably via the intercellular route where the major permeability barrier is represented by organized array of neutral lipids in the superficial layers of the epithelium. The relative role of aqueous as opposed to the lipid pathway in drug transport is still under investigation; penetration is not necessarily enhanced by simply increasing lipophilicity, for other effects, such as charge and molecular size, also play an important role in absorption of peptide and protein drugs. Depending on the pharmacodynamics of the peptides, various oral mucosal delivery systems can be designed. Delivery of peptide/protein drugs by conventional means such as solutions has some limitations. The possibility of excluding a major part of drug from absorption by involuntary swallowing and the continuous dilution due to salivary flow limits a controlled release. However these limitations can be overcome by adhesive dosage forms such as gels, films, tablets, and patches. They can localize the formulation and improve the contact with the mucosal surface to improve absorption of peptides and proteins. Addition of absorption promoters/permeabilizers in bioadhesive dosage forms will be essential for a successful peptide/protein delivery system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Epithelium / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mouth Mucosa / anatomy & histology
  • Mouth Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Peptides / pharmacokinetics*
  • Proteins / pharmacokinetics*


  • Peptides
  • Proteins