Principles and clinical application of assessing alterations in renal elimination pathways

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2003;42(14):1193-211. doi: 10.2165/00003088-200342140-00002.


Drugs and metabolites are eliminated from the body by metabolism and excretion. The kidney makes the major contribution to excretion of unchanged drug and also to excretion of metabolites. Net renal excretion is a combination of three processes - glomerular filtration, tubular secretion and tubular reabsorption. Renal function has traditionally been determined by measuring plasma creatinine and estimating creatinine clearance. However, estimated creatinine clearance measures only glomerular filtration with a small contribution from active secretion. There is accumulating evidence of poor correlation between estimated creatinine clearance and renal drug clearance in different clinical settings, challenging the 'intact nephron hypothesis' and suggesting that renal drug handling pathways may not decline in parallel. Furthermore, it is evident that renal drug handling is altered to a clinically significant extent in a number of disease states, necessitating dosage adjustment not just based on filtration. These observations suggest that a re-evaluation of markers of renal function is required. Methods that measure all renal handling pathways would allow informed dosage individualisation using an understanding of renal excretion pathways and patient characteristics. Methodologies have been described to determine individually each of the renal elimination pathways. However, their simultaneous assessment has only recently been investigated. A cocktail of markers to measure simultaneously the individual renal handling pathways have now been developed, and evaluated in healthy volunteers. This review outlines the different renal elimination pathways and the possible markers that can be used for their measurement. Diseases and other physiological conditions causing altered renal drug elimination are presented, and the potential application of a cocktail of markers for the simultaneous measurement of drug handling is evaluated. Further investigation of the effects of disease processes on renal drug handling should include people with HIV infection, transplant recipients (renal and liver) and people with rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, changes in renal function in the elderly, the effect of sex on renal function, assessment of living kidney donors prior to transplantation and the investigation of renal drug interactions would also be potential applications. Once renal drug handling pathways are characterised in a patient population, the implications for accurate dosage individualisation can be assessed. The simultaneous measurement of renal function elimination pathways of drugs and metabolites has the potential to assist in understanding how renal function changes with different disease states or physiological conditions. In addition, it will further our understanding of fundamental aspects of the renal elimination of drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Drug Interactions
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Kidney / metabolism*
  • Kidney / physiopathology
  • Kidney Function Tests / methods
  • Organ Transplantation
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Sex Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations