P-glycoprotein recognition of substrates and circumvention through rational drug design

Mol Pharm. Jan-Feb 2006;3(1):3-25. doi: 10.1021/mp0500871.


It is now well recognized that membrane efflux transporters, especially P-glycoprotein (P-gp; ABCB1), play a role in determining the absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicology behaviors of some drugs and molecules in development. An investment in screening structure-activity relationship (SAR) is warranted in early discovery when exposure and/or target activity in an in vivo efficacy model is not achieved and P-gp efflux is identified as a rate-limiting factor. However, the amount of investment in SAR must be placed into perspective by assessing the risks associated with the intended therapeutic target, the potency and margin of safety of the compound, the intended patient population(s), and the market competition. The task of rationally designing a chemistry strategy for circumventing a limiting P-gp interaction can be daunting. The necessity of retaining biological potency and metabolic stability places restrictions on what can be done, and the factors for P-gp recognition of substrates are complicated and poorly understood. The parameters within the assays that affect overall pump efficiency or net efflux, such as passive diffusion, membrane partitioning, and molecular interaction between pump and substrate, should be understood when interpreting data sets associated with chemistry around a scaffold. No single, functional group alone is often the cause, but one group can accentuate the recognition points existing within a scaffold. This can be likened to a rheostat, rather than an on/off switch, where addition or removal of a key group can increase or decrease the pumping efficiency. The most practical approach to de-emphasize the limiting effects of P-gp on a particular scaffold is to increase passive diffusion. Efflux pumping efficiency may be overcome when passive diffusion is fast enough. Eliminating, or substituting with fewer, groups that solvate in water, or decreasing their hydrogen bonding capacity, and adding halogen groups can increase passive diffusion. Reducing molecular size, replacing electronegative atoms, blocking or masking H-bond donors with N-alkylation or bulky flanking groups, introducing constrained conformation, or by promoting intramolecular hydrogen bonds are all examples of steps to take. This review discusses our understanding of how P-gp recognizes and pumps compounds as substrates and describes cases where structural changes were made in a chemical scaffold to circumvent the effects of P-gp interactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / chemistry*
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / drug effects
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • Drug Design*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Structure
  • Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1