Tissue distribution and pharmacodynamics: a complicated relationship

Curr Drug Metab. 2006 Jan;7(1):39-65. doi: 10.2174/138920006774832578.


With few exceptions, drugs exert their effects not within the plasma compartment, but in the defined target tissues. The process of drug distribution to the active site constitutes the "link-bridge" of the pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic (PK/PD) relationship. In spite of the importance of drug distribution as a key factor in determining pharmacologic response, research on drug distribution has historically received much less attention than that of absorption, metabolism, and excretion. The negligence of research on drug distribution is due mainly to the inaccessibility of the target tissues for obvious ethical reasons. In addition, lack of reliable experimental tools to assess the distribution process is also a major contributing factor. Because of this negligence, drug distribution has been referred to as "the forgotten relative in clinical pharmacokinetics." Although recent advances in molecular biology have led to the identification of many drug transporters, many of the processes of drug distribution are still not fully understood. The primary aim of this article is to provide new insight into the mechanisms of drug distribution, with an attempt to describe the relationship between the drug distribution and pharmacologic response. In addition, the factors that affect the processes of drug distribution will also be reviewed. Also, validity of some key assumptions that are used to relate the processes of tissue distribution with pharmacologic activity will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Tissue Distribution*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations