Enterohepatic circulation: physiological, pharmacokinetic and clinical implications

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2002;41(10):751-90. doi: 10.2165/00003088-200241100-00005.


Enterohepatic recycling occurs by biliary excretion and intestinal reabsorption of a solute, sometimes with hepatic conjugation and intestinal deconjugation. Cycling is often associated with multiple peaks and a longer apparent half-life in a plasma concentration-time profile. Factors affecting biliary excretion include drug characteristics (chemical structure, polarity and molecular size), transport across sinusoidal plasma membrane and canniculae membranes, biotransformation and possible reabsorption from intrahepatic bile ductules. Intestinal reabsorption to complete the enterohepatic cycle may depend on hydrolysis of a drug conjugate by gut bacteria. Bioavailability is also affected by the extent of intestinal absorption, gut-wall P-glycoprotein efflux and gut-wall metabolism. Recently, there has been a considerable increase in our understanding of the role of transporters, of gene expression of intestinal and hepatic enzymes, and of hepatic zonation. Drugs, disease and genetics may result in induced or inhibited activity of transporters and metabolising enzymes. Reduced expression of one transporter, for example hepatic canalicular multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP) 2, is often associated with enhanced expression of others, for example the usually quiescent basolateral efflux MRP3, to limit hepatic toxicity. In addition, physiologically relevant pharmacokinetic models, which describe enterohepatic recirculation in terms of its determinants (such as sporadic gall bladder emptying), have been developed. In general, enterohepatic recirculation may prolong the pharmacological effect of certain drugs and drug metabolites. Of particular importance is the potential amplifying effect of enterohepatic variability in defining differences in the bioavailability, apparent volume of distribution and clearance of a given compound. Genetic abnormalities, disease states, orally administered adsorbents and certain coadministered drugs all affect enterohepatic recycling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts* / metabolism
  • Bile Acids and Salts* / physiology
  • Biotransformation
  • Enterohepatic Circulation / drug effects
  • Enterohepatic Circulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Liver* / anatomy & histology
  • Liver* / drug effects
  • Liver* / physiology
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Protein 2
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Pharmacology*


  • ABCC2 protein, human
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Protein 2