Apical/basolateral surface expression of drug transporters and its role in vectorial drug transport

Pharm Res. 2005 Oct;22(10):1559-77. doi: 10.1007/s11095-005-6810-2. Epub 2005 Sep 22.


It is well known that transporter proteins play a key role in governing drug absorption, distribution, and elimination in the body, and, accordingly, they are now considered as causes of drug-drug interactions and interindividual differences in pharmacokinetic profiles. Polarized tissues directly involved in drug disposition (intestine, kidney, and liver) and restricted distribution to naive sanctuaries (blood-tissue barriers) asymmetrically express a variety of drug transporters on the apical and basolateral sides, resulting in vectorial drug transport. For example, the organic anion transporting polypeptide (OATP) family on the sinusoidal (basolateral) membrane and multidrug resistance-associated protein 2 (MRP2/ABCC2) on the apical bile canalicular membrane of hepatocytes take up and excrete organic anionic compounds from blood to bile. Such vectorial transcellular transport is fundamentally attributable to the asymmetrical distribution of transporter molecules in polarized cells. Besides the apical/basolateral sorting direction, distribution of the transporter protein between the membrane surface (active site) and the intracellular fraction (inactive site) is of practical importance for the quantitative evaluation of drug transport processes. The most characterized drug transporter associated with this issue is MRP2 on the hepatocyte canalicular (apical) membrane, and it is linked to a genetic disease. Dubin-Johnson syndrome is sometimes caused by impaired canalicular surface expression of MRP2 by a single amino acid substitution. Moreover, single nucleotide polymorphisms in OATP-C/SLC21A6 (SLCO1B1) also affect membrane surface expression, and actually lead to the altered pharmacokinetic profile of pravastatin in healthy subjects. In this review article, the asymmetrical transporter distribution and altered surface expression in polarized tissues are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


  • Membrane Transport Proteins