Ciclesonide (CIC) is an inhaled glucocorticosteroid. This study aimed to identify esterases involved in the metabolism of CIC to the active metabolite desisobutyryl-ciclesonide (des-CIC), and to measure hydrolysis rates in human liver, lung and plasma and normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells in vitro. Ciclesonide (5 microM and 500 microM) was incubated with microsomal or cytosolic fractions from liver, lung and plasma (n=4 for each) and des-CIC formation was determined by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography with U.V. detection. The roles of carboxylesterase, cholinesterase and A-esterase in CIC hydrolysis were determined using a range of inhibitors. Inhibitor concentrations for liver and NHBE cells were 100 microM and 5 microM, respectively. Liver tissue had a higher activity for 500 microM CIC hydrolysis (microsomes: 25.4; cytosol: 62.9 nmol/g tissue/min) than peripheral lung (microsomes: 0.089; cytosol: 0.915 nmol/g tissue/min) or plasma (0.001 nmol/mL plasma/min), corresponding with high levels of carboxylesterase and cholinesterase in the liver compared with the lung. CIC (5 microM) was rapidly hydrolyzed by NHBE cells (approximately 30% conversion at 4h), with almost complete conversion by 24h. In liver and NHBE cells, major involvement of cytosolic carboxylesterases, with some contribution by cholinesterases, was indicated. The highest level of conversion was found in the liver, the site of inactivation of des-CIC through rapid oxidation by cytochrome P450. Carboxylesterases in bronchial epithelial cells probably contribute significantly to the conversion to des-CIC in the target organ, whereas low systemic levels of des-CIC are a result of the high metabolic clearance by the liver following CIC inhalation.