CYP3A4-transfected Caco-2 cells as a tool for understanding biochemical absorption barriers: studies with sirolimus and midazolam

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2004 Jan;308(1):143-55. doi: 10.1124/jpet.103.058065. Epub 2003 Oct 20.


CYP3A4-transfected Caco-2 cells were used as an in vitro system to predict the importance of drug metabolism and transport on overall drug absorption. We examined the transport and metabolism of two drugs; midazolam, an anesthetic agent and CYP3A4 substrate, and sirolimus, an immunosuppressant and a dual CYP3A4/P-glycoprotein (P-gp) substrate, in the presence of cyclosporine (CsA, a CYP3A4/P-gp inhibitor) or N-[4-[2-(1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-6,7-dimethoxy-2-isoquinolinyl)-ethyl]-phenyl]-9,10-dihydro-5-methoxy-9-oxo-4-acridine carboxamine (GG918) (an inhibitor of P-gp and not CYP3A4). All major CYP3A4 metabolites were formed in the cells (1-OH > 4-OH midazolam and 39-O-desmethyl > 12-OH > 11-OH sirolimus), consistent with results from human liver microsomes. There was no bidirectional transport of midazolam across CYP3A4-transfected Caco-2 cells, whereas there was a 2.5-fold net efflux of sirolimus (1 microM) that disappeared in the presence of CsA or GG918. No change in the absorption rate or extraction ratio (ER) for midazolam was observed when P-gp was inhibited with GG918. Addition of GG918 had a modest impact on the absorption rate and ER for sirolimus (increased 58% and decreased 25%, respectively), whereas a 6.1-fold increase in the absorption rate and a 75% decrease in the ER were found when sirolimus was combined with CsA. Although both midazolam and sirolimus metabolites were preferentially excreted to the apical compartment, only sirolimus metabolites were transported by P-gp as determined from inhibition studies with GG918. Using CYP3A4-transfected Caco-2 cells we determined that, in contrast to P-gp, CYP3A4 is the major factor limiting sirolimus absorption. The integration of CYP3A4 and P-gp into a combined in vitro system was critical to unveil the relative importance of each biochemical barrier.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism*
  • Dogs
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / metabolism
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Midazolam / pharmacokinetics*
  • Sirolimus / metabolism
  • Sirolimus / pharmacokinetics*
  • Transfection


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • CYP3A protein, human
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A
  • CYP3A4 protein, human
  • Midazolam
  • Sirolimus