Effect of saquinavir/ritonavir on P-glycoprotein activity in healthy volunteers using digoxin as a probe

Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2010 Mar;48(3):192-9. doi: 10.5414/cpp48192.


Background: Saquinavir and ritonavir, both human immunodeficiency virus-1 protease inhibitors, also inhibit the adenosine triphosphate-dependent efflux pump P-glycoprotein (P-gp), which is located at a variety of anatomic sites, including the human intestine. P-gp plays an important role in the absorption, distribution and elimination of numerous drugs. This study investigated the inhibitory potential of multiple administrations of ritonavir-boosted saquinavir at the target therapeutic dose of 1,000 mg saquinavir/100 mg ritonavir twice daily on the pharmacokinetics of oral digoxin, a model P-gp substrate that is predominantly excreted as unchanged drug in the urine.

Methods: In an open-label, 1-sequence, 2-period crossover study, a single digoxin dose of 0.5 mg was administered orally on Day 1. From Days 11 through 26, participants received oral administration of saquinavir/ritonavir 1,000/100 mg twice daily. A second dose of digoxin was administered on Day 24. Blood and urine sampling for pharmacokinetic analyses of digoxin was performed at scheduled time points on Days 1 - 4 and Days 24 - 27. Serial blood samples were drawn to determine plasma levels of saquinavir and ritonavir on Days 21 - 24. Adverse event reports were collected.

Results: Of the 17 enrolled participants (9 males and 8 females) who received at least one dose of study medication, 16 completed the study. Two weeks of pretreatment with ritonavir and saquinavir resulted in a 1.27-fold increase in digoxin Cmax (90% confidence interval (1.05 - 1.54)) and a 1.49-fold increase in AUC0-72 (90% CI (1.32 - 1.69)). Renal clearance decreased by a factor 0.88 from 111 to 97.3 ml/min while digoxin half-life increased from 37.0 to 45.3 h. The unbound fraction of digoxin was almost unaffected. The changes in digoxin renal clearance and exposure (AUC0-72) following 2 weeks of treatment with saquinavir/ritonavir were found to be more pronounced among female participants compared with males. Plasma concentrations of saquinavir/ritonavir at trough and at 4 h postdose were within the expected ranges for each gender, with female participants showing higher concentrations than male participants. All three treatments were well tolerated, with no serious adverse events noted. Despite the higher digoxin exposure among females compared to males following saquinavir/ritonavir administration, overall safety profiles were similar. On electrocardiographic readings, a trend of a longer PR interval was noted with triple combination of agents.

Conclusions: Pretreatment with saquinavir/ritonavir 1,000/100 mg twice daily increased digoxin exposure most likely via P-gp-inhibition. Given the relatively narrow therapeutic window of digoxin, caution should be exercised when these three drugs are administered together. It is recommended to reduce digoxin doses and to monitor digoxin serum concentrations.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / drug effects*
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Area Under Curve
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Digoxin / adverse effects
  • Digoxin / pharmacokinetics
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ritonavir / adverse effects
  • Ritonavir / pharmacokinetics
  • Ritonavir / pharmacology*
  • Saquinavir / adverse effects
  • Saquinavir / pharmacokinetics
  • Saquinavir / pharmacology*
  • Sex Factors


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors
  • Digoxin
  • Saquinavir
  • Ritonavir