Transport of Anthracyclines and Mitoxantrone Across Membranes by a Flip-Flop Mechanism

Biochem Pharmacol. 2005 Jul 1;70(1):161-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2005.03.032.


The objectives of the present work are to characterize the transport of mitoxantrone and three anthracyclines in terms of binding to the membrane surface, flip-flop across the lipid core of the membrane, and release into the medium. Mitoxantrone and anthracyclines are positively charged amphipathic molecules, and as such are located at the surface of membranes among the headgroups of the phospholipids. Therefore, their transport across membranes occurs by a flip-flop mechanism, rather than by diffusion down a continuous concentration gradient located in the lipid core of the membrane. Flip-flop rates have been estimated with liposomes labeled at their surface with 7-nitrobenzo-2-oxa-1,3-diazol-4-yl (NBD) moiety attached to the headgroup of phosphatidylethanolamine. Flip-flop of mitoxantrone, doxorubicin, daunorubicin, and idarubicin occurred with half-lives of 6, 0.7, 0.15, and 0.1min, respectively. Partition of the drugs into the membrane occurred with lipid phase/aqueous medium coefficients of 230,000, 8600, 23,000, and 40,000 for mitoxantrone, doxorubicin, daunorubicin, and idarubicin, respectively, which are much higher than their corresponding octanol/aqueous medium values. There was no direct correlation between the lipophilicity of the drugs and their lipid phase/aqueous medium partition coefficient or their flip-flop rate. Mitoxantrone exhibited the highest affinity toward liposome membranes, but the slowest flip-flop across the lipid core of the membranes. Simulation of drug uptake into liposomes revealed that transmembrane movement of the mitoxantrone and anthracyclines is determined by their flip-flop rate and affinity toward membranes.

MeSH terms

  • Anthracyclines / pharmacokinetics*
  • Biological Transport
  • Liposomes / metabolism*
  • Mitoxantrone / pharmacokinetics*
  • Solubility


  • Anthracyclines
  • Liposomes
  • Mitoxantrone