Transport characteristics of tramadol in the blood-brain barrier

J Pharm Sci. 2014 Oct;103(10):3335-41. doi: 10.1002/jps.24129. Epub 2014 Aug 29.


Tramadol is a centrally acting analgesic whose action is mediated by both agonistic activity at opioid receptors and inhibitory activity on neuronal reuptake of monoamines. The purpose of this study was to characterize the blood-brain barrier (BBB) transport of tramadol by means of microdialysis studies in rat brain and in vitro studies with human immortalized brain capillary endothelial cells (hCMEC/D3). The Kp,uu,brain value of tramadol determined by rat brain microdialysis was greater than unity, indicating that tramadol is actively taken up into the brain across the BBB. Tramadol was transported into hCMEC/D3 cells in a concentration-dependent manner. The uptake was inhibited by type II cations (pyrilamine, verapamil, etc.), but not by substrates of organic cation transporter OCTs or OCTN2. It was also inhibited by a metabolic inhibitor but was independent of extracellular sodium or membrane potential. The uptake was altered by changes of extracellular pH, and by ammonium chloride-induced intracellular acidification, suggesting that transport of tramadol is driven by an oppositely directed proton gradient. Thus, our in vitro and in vivo results suggest that tramadol is actively transported, at least in part, from blood to the brain across the BBB by proton-coupled organic cation antiporter.

Keywords: active transport; blood-brain barrier; drug transport; in vitro models; membrane transporter; microdialysis; organic cation transporter; tramadol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacokinetics*
  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Male
  • Microdialysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Tramadol / pharmacokinetics*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Tramadol